Tyson Foods’ recent agreement to settle a lawsuit for falsely advertising its “raised without antibiotics” chicken brand has received limited media coverage – no doubt to the relief of the company’s boardroom. And with an annual turnover of nearly $27 billion, they probably won’t sweat too much over the $5 million that the company must now shell out as compensation to unhappy customers. In falsely marketing its chicken meat as produced from birds “raised without antibiotics” while still feeding them antibiotics, Tyson Foods was shamelessly exploiting the growing public concern over the excessive use of antibiotics in industrial farming, particularly in the form of non-therapeutic growth promoters. But while the intensive meat industry continues to vigorously oppose any attempts to reduce antibiotic use in farming, the irony is that Tyson Foods may well have inadvertently shot itself in the foot by publicly admitting that the overuse of certain antibiotics in industrial farming really is a threat to human health.
I’ve just read in The London Times that scientists at the University of Newcastle in the UK were awarded one of this year’s Ig Nobel Prizes for finding out that cows who are given names produced a higher milk yield than those who weren’t. I laughed, too. But then it got me thinking.
You see, while the Ig Noble Prize ceremony is all rather tongue in cheek, there is a serious side; the prizes are awarded to research achievements that “first make people LAUGH then make them THINK.” While this research might seem a little ridiculous, it was actually a serious study into cow welfare.
Catherine Douglas, who led the research, said, “The whole study was about how stress and fear can have a biological effect on milk yields.” Of those 516 farmers involved in the research, over two thirds said that they knew all the cows in their herd and 48 per cent agreed that positive human contact was more likely to produce cows with a good milking temperament.”
Now I am sure that this will all just seem like common sense to most of our Animal Welfare Approved farmers, but the bottom line is that if you treat your cows as individuals – and if you treat them with respect – you get happier animals and better results. It’s a fact.
Buying them flowers, on the other hand, might just be a step too far…
REFERENCE: Catherine Bertenshaw [Douglas] and Peter Rowlinson (2009) ‘Exploring Stock Managers’ Perceptions of the Human-Animal Relationship on Dairy Farms and an Association with Milk Production’. Anthrozoos, vol. 22, no. 1, pp. 59-69.