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Fourteen cents for animal welfare

by FRANCES LAMBERTS

I have always found deeply moving a sculpture by Ewald Matare, one among the early 20th century artists in Germany whose works were banned as “degenerate” under the Nazi regime.

The particular sculpture shows a “little cow,” recumbent, as small and young-looking as though freshly born but after sac-removal and dry-licking ministrations from its mother.

Its posture, with seemingly thoughtful concentration, suggests a sense of wonder at the awakening to a world unknown, the miracle of a new life.

A large pasture adjoining my garden is often dotted with a herd of contented Simmental and Charolais cattle. Many calves were born there in the last month-and-a-half, some arriving during the bitter-cold early January week, yet surviving.

Gamely following their mothers, they were beginning a grazing animal’s natural life, free in a pasture and in company with their herd.

On the opposite end of contented heifers and spunky calves in pastures are the animals raised in today’s factory farming operations.

Veal calves, especially, are not roaming outside but kept tethered, individually, in crates too small to turn around or lie down.

They are raised on milk substitutes purposely low in iron, denied solid food and often kept in total darkness to reduce restlessness – all to make the “premium” meat sold off them to be pale.

The Humane Farming Association calls industrial veal production “factory farming at its worst.”

In what could lighten a very little bit at least the cruel lot of the animals, the PETA organization, or People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, reported on a resolution passed by the American Veal Association in 2009.

The resolution recommended that U.S. veal producers end the individual crate tethering of calves, in favor of “group housing,” by 2017.

The newspaper Zeit last year published an appeal to its readers with title “Fourteen cents for the welfare of animals.” With data provided by an expert advisory panel in the national ministry for nutrition and agriculture, it reported price comparisons for food from German factory-farm operations relative to meat and dairy products from organic-agriculture farms.

The findings were revealing. If beef cattle, now typically tied in cramped stalls, were given roomier stables and daily pasture-grazing time, the cost of beef at the grocery store would be 22 percent higher.

Lighter, airier stables and other adjustments in hog raising would increase the price of pork by 34 percent, cost of eggs and chicken would rise 14 percent.

With only 3 percent higher milk cost through improved dairy operations, the overall cost of these foods, at the supermarket, would increase by 18 percent.

The higher production costs, the newspaper stated, would mean 50 Euros more, annually, for the average German household, or 14 cents per day.

Thus, major improvements in farm animal welfare could be achieved for a minor increase in food prices.

There were no mega factory farms when Matare painted and sculpted his stylized animals. The growth in farmers markets and organic farming seems a hopeful sign today that a better, kinder life for animals motivates more and more shoppers, beyond “cheap food.”