How can consumers help farmers help farm animals? Here are 5 ways to improve the lives of animals through your work off-farm. This article was originally published on CNN Eatocracy on July 23, 2012. Click here to see all of my CNN articles.

help farmers help farm animals cnn eatocracy

Proper animal care is a topic of big concern for anyone talking about our food supply. Recently, Eatocracy featured Humane Society food policy director Matthew Prescott’s thoughts about what you, the customer, can do to improve the lives of farm animals. As a farmer, I asked myself what I wish my own customers could do to learn more about animal care standards.

I turned to a friend in Florida who is a cattle veterinarian and, like many of you, a consumer faced with the task of making food choices for her family. Kathy Swift, DVM, grew up on a 100-cow dairy farm in Northern Virginia. She takes great pride in giving the best attention possible to the cattle under her care. While providing quality, individual, veterinary care is essential for these farm animals, it is just as important to her to help her farmers do the best they can to provide high-quality and safe food that meets customers’ expectations.

As a veterinarian working closely with both animals and consumers, Swift thinks it is incredibly important that both parties understand every step of the process of how food, including food from animals, gets to our tables.

Five easy ways customers can help farmers help farm animals

1. Seek out a farm and ask for a tour

Farmers want to show you how they raise their animals, but unfortunately, have done a poor job of letting customers know this. Wondering how to connect with a farm? Try the phone book, a web search, or even social media.

If you still cannot find a farm, contact your county or University Extension service or your local or state Farm Bureau. Any of these groups will be able to put you in touch with a farm in your area.

If you have concerns about how “factory farms” take care of their animals, make a point to see if one of them on your farm tours. I can speak from my fifteen years of experience when I say farm size is in no way related to animal welfare.

2. Call the company that produces the animal food products you consume and ask what kind of welfare standards and audits are in place to make sure these animals are receiving proper care

While farmers and food processors have always been concerned about the welfare of the animals, we realize that as more customers become removed from a farm setting, it is important that we have third-party audit systems in place to verify animal care standards. These auditors are generally highly trained professionals such as veterinarians and animal science PhDs who have years of experience with cattle health, nutrition, behavior, and welfare. These people use their knowledge, along with scientifically based research to make factually based assessments on whether or not animals are receiving proper care.

3. Learn about the challenges farmers face that do not involve their animals

Farmers face many pressures daily that influence the sustainability of their operations. Many have faced the pressures of having to grow larger and become more efficient in order to stay in business. Some are able to accept these challenges, while others, due to many internal and external pressures, cannot. In order for a farm to remain profitable and sustainable, economic factors must be balanced with animal welfare.

4. If you shop in a grocery store, tell management that you want to meet the farmers who supply the animal food products they sell

These stores need to know that you are concerned about farm animal welfare and you want to get your information directly from the source. Nothing sends a message to a business louder than requests coming directly from the customer. If it is important to you, it is important to them. I have farmer friends who really enjoy participating in grocery store events to meet people buying their products.

5. Know that it is okay to eat meat seven nights a week – if you want to

If you have done your research, and have connected with a farm and food supplier that meets your criteria of humane animal standards, then go ahead and enjoy. If you decide to go meatless a night or two a week, that is okay too. The grain and produce farmers in this country work very hard and deserve just as much recognition for producing a safe food supply. Meat, fish, and dairy products can be a part of a healthy, balanced diet.

What do you want to know to help farmers help farm animals?

What other things would you like to become more familiar with about animal welfare? Leave a note in the comments below and we’ll do our best to get you an expert answer.

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