CORVALLIS - Cattle ranchers and environmentalists should consider joining forces rather than fighting each other. Meat producers had better start taking vegetarians seriously. And students who plan to pursue careers in livestock production should listen to animal rights activists.
Those are among the assertions in a new edition of a textbook by Peter Cheeke, a 30-year veteran of Oregon State University's Department of Animal Sciences.
In the second edition of his 1993 text, which was titled "Impacts of Livestock Production on Society, Diet-Health and Environment," the OSU professor calls on colleagues, students and practitioners in animal agriculture to examine the ethics and practicality of mass production of meat. The new title is "Contemporary Issues in Animal Agriculture."
The book's purpose, Cheeke said, is to involve more animal agriculture students and professionals in the debate over society's use of animals for meat and other products.
"Because I believe that public concern about the ethics of so-called factory farming is a precipitating factor in causing people to be turned off by modern livestock production techniques, it is appropriate to discuss intensive animal agriculture," Cheeke writes.
The book takes a look at such topics as:
Cheeke said he expects criticism of the text from some in the animal agriculture community.
He and an OSU colleague, animal science professor Steve Davis, who teaches a course in agricultural issues based on Cheeke's text, said they have already come under fire from some colleagues for views expressed in an article they co-wrote and published in magazines and The Oregonian, a Portland newspaper.
The article urged cattle ranchers and environmentalists to consider pursuing common goals such as opposing the industrialization and globalization of animal agriculture, as well as the conversion of "cattle ranches and wildlife habitat to condominium sites, summer homes, ski lodges, and suburbs."
"Do we want to have our meat provided by swine megafarms, chicken factories and beef factories, located (perhaps overseas) where feed, water, labor and waste disposal costs are lowest for the shareholders of multinational food companies?" Cheeke and Davis wrote in the article.
"Is western cattle ranching destined to the same fate as sheep ranching?" they asked. "One of the most positive things that cattle ranchers could do to ensure their survival in the face of competition from industrial production of animal protein is to make peace with environmentalists.
"As the most vocal and committed opponents of industrialized animal agriculture and development of rural land, they (environmentalists) may indeed be among the ranchers' best friends."
The authors also suggested that urbanization of the west will have far greater negative environmental consequences than cattle ranching ever has or will have.
"Swiss dairy farmers are subsidized so that tourists can see Brown Swiss cows on mountain meadows," they wrote. "Subsidized grazing fees, though often criticized, may be a small price to pay for the preservation of rangelands and wildlife habitat."
The next edition of Cheeke's text urges persons interested in the future of the animal agriculture industry to study controversial issues as a matter of practical survival. For example, he says, by addressing "the hard questions" OSU may prompt its agriculture students to come up with answers.
Copies of the book are available from Interstate Publishers, Inc., P.O. Box 50, Danville, Ill. 61834-0050. Their telephone is (800) 843-4774.
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Peter Cheeke, 541-737-1917