Kurt Vogel conducts seminars on animal welfare. He’s a cattle handling expert who learned his trade while a student at Colorado State University from the best – Temple Grandin. Now a grizzled Ph.D., he teaches at the University of Wisconsin in River Falls, Wis. The core of his seminars is “societal ethics and how to keep up with them” and he took that message into California, the heartland of agricultural controversy, in May.
“Societal ethics” and cattle? What the hell is that, I asked myself when I first heard about what Dr. Vogel was trying to do. In this day of short-attention-span theater, immediate gratification and quickly expanding definitions of acceptable lifestyle choices, what is a societal ethic and how can you keep up with it, even if you’re not tying it to the backside of a cow?
Well, if you want answers to something, you’ve got to ask the questions. So I tracked down the relatively newly minted Doctor and posed a few pointed questions. The guy answered in plain English, none of that loopy pop-psych-speak that I expected. He put his finger on the agriculture/urban disconnect that seems to infuriate both sides from time-to-time. He suggested that both sides are basically the same decent, honorable people that need to sit down for a long, mutually respectful talk. It might lead to a shaking of hands, not a shaking of fists, and a better understanding of what’s needed for both to be happy.
Our politicians should only be as wise.
But let’s leave Washington to the beltway crazies and just try to solve our own outlander issues of finding a common ground for aggies and urbanites. Here’s what Dr. Vogel had to say:
Q. Your seminar on cattle welfare in May took place in the heart of one of the states where animal welfare is a volatile issue – California. Most farmers are concerned about the health and well-being of the animals under their care and they are a little shocked at the suggestion by some that they aren’t doing enough. Would you talk about the differences in opinion that is creating this controversy?
A. The opinions that members of society hold toward on-farm animal care are largely based on a trust that has formed over time that farmers do everything they can to care for their animals. This view is still very common, and for the most part, well-deserved. I think that the root of this issue can be found in the separation that has formed between agriculture and the rest of society, but there is another force at work that makes the issue of on-farm animal care so polarizing: the questioning of ideologies.