As any artist will tell you, perspective determines what you see. If you focus just on the foreground, you may miss the whole point of the picture. The same can be said for circumstances and issues. Several items have crossed my desk in the past few days that illustrate this in some very powerful ways.
Take the drought, for example. If you look at the coverage of the non-agricultural media you would see the drought as a scary disaster with dire consequences including food shortages, worldwide starvation, and economic calamity. Those of us in agriculture have a much different perspective. We see the drought as unfortunate and unpleasant, but survivable. My city friends will ask me, “How are the farmers doing?” in a tone akin to discussing someone with a terminal disease. When farmers discuss the drought, it is with an air of acceptance, resignation, and dogged determination. This is due to a difference in perspective. When it comes to weather and nature, most people have short-term perspectives. Farmers, on the other hand, have a long-term perspective, viewing weather in terms of seasons and cycles.
Another area of agriculture where a difference in perspective results in vastly different viewpoints is animals. For example, there are 45,000 horses being fed by the USDA at taxpayers’ expense. Why? Because nobody wants them, but there is no horse slaughter allowed in the US. Congress, it seems, lacks the backbone to fix the problem they created while it is more than willing to cut billions from the USDA food and nutrition programs that feed people. Yes, there are many, in high places, who have the perspective that animal lives are of greater importance than human ones.
Similarly, the debate over the housing for pregnant pigs reveals vastly different perspectives. Radical animal rights groups like HSUS have convinced the media, large food companies, and at least a segment of consumers that housing sows in gestation crates is cruel and inhumane. Yet, the same standards do not apply to other animals. The estimated cost to America’s 67,000 pork producers for converting from stalls to pens, according to Brian Buhr at the University of Minnesota, is between $1.9 billion and $3.2 billion. What do you think the chances are of getting Wal-Mart to donate $3 billion to improve the health insurance coverage of their store employees? Their perspective is that public relations is more important than human relations.
The push to ban the use of antibiotics in animal production has a totally different perspective. For these activists, it is all about protecting human health — and the heck with animal health. They are so concerned about the “possible” development of drug-resistant disease that they want to eliminate tools that would keep animals healthy and food safe. I found it ironic that, this summer, some of the same people who want to ban antibiotics for animals refused to enter the livestock barns at their county fairs because there “might be sick animals in there.”
A difference in perspective is why those of us in agriculture so often find ourselves at odds with public opinion. We sometimes blame it on a lack of facts but, more often than not, it is a difference in perspective. Or as my Uncle Abner was fond of saying, “Them folks are just plum crazy.”
By Gary Truitt