Commentary

Farming and animal abuse should not be equated

I am saddened that farmers in the metro area are so busy trying to make a
living that they do not have time to argue with the Humane Society of the
United States (HSUS) about animal husbandry and land stewardship. (See
“Warehousing animals is beneath humanity’s moral integrity,” page 4, in the
June issue of Metro Lutheran.)

I am of the correct age to recall that introductory pamphlets in 4-H and
Future Farmers of America meetings used the terms husbandry and
stewardship unashamedly. As a 4-H livestock leader in Scott County, I teach
4-H livestock caregivers that they have a trust to their animals and the
people who will consume them that borders on sacred.

Christine Gutleben’s assumption that the H1N1 virus is the result of
agriculture practices is not accurate and cannot be supported by the
evidence. For Gutleben to then jump to the fabrication that America’s
agriculture is in the hands of greedy corporate stereotypes instead of
Christian men and women is an insult to the people I live and work with. The
farmers I sit in church with understand that the land deed they hold is not a
grant to exploit resources. The land was handed down to them from
grandparents and must remain fertile for their grandchildren. It takes a long
view of God’s creation to farm even in a digital/instant age.

For the Humane Society of the United States (which is no relation to local
animal shelters) to claim they represent the moral high ground because they
lobby against intensive animal husbandry and then use phrases from
churchwide social statements to support their viewpoint is offensive. I have
attended assemblies and sat on councils that formed and edited those
statements. I live in a community that is still rural, even though our
population is growing as fast as any county in America.

I was raised on a subsistence farm. My first chore was to pick eggs from
loose housed hens when I was eight years old. I graduated to feeding and
watering the hens and broilers. When I was 13, I had to choose between
wrestling and doing the evening milking so my dad could work a night shift
at Honeywell. In my 59 years of rural life, it is obvious that the animals that
are mistreated are the ones owned by people in economic distress. Animal
welfare is an economic issue, not a moral one.

I urge Metro Lutheran readers to judge the Humane Society of the United
States not by what they say but by what they do. They do not help to shelter
animals of any kind; they are a powerful lobby at the federal level. I would
argue that their most recent lobbying effort will result in more inhumane
treatment of animals. Their successful effort to close the only remaining
horse slaughterhouses has reduced the monetary value of surplus horses to
zero, making more horses candidates for abuse and abandonment by owners
in economic distress.

As Christians and Lutherans, our moral obligation is first to our neighbors. If
we do raise our faith to the act of lobbying, we must lobby for economic
justice. If the expectation of Ms. Gutleben and members of HSUS is for
smaller farms to produce the food on our tables, then we must lobby toward
a living wage for farm families and our land stewards.

Do not fear viruses. Fear organizations that are willing to use our fear of
epidemics to attack Christian men and women who supply us with the world’s
cleanest food.

Larry Kiewel works for a lumber company and also shears sheep. He is a
member of the Minnesota Lamb and Wool Producers and of St. John Lutheran
Church (ELCA) in Belle Plaine, Minnesota. He was a member of the
Minneapolis Synod Council from 1990 to 1996.