Hut's Hamburgers, an Austin tradition since 1939, has added that iconic symbol of Texas-the Longhorn-to its menu. Animal Welfare Approved Bandera Grassland of Tarpley, Texas is supplying the restaurant with pure Texas Longhorn beef from cattle that are direct descendants of the Iberian cattle brought by the Spaniards in the 1500s. The Animal Welfare Approved seal is an assurance to consumers that cattle from Bandera Grassland have been treated according to the highest welfare standards. "We were interested in the beef because of its unique history and strong identification with Texas, but what sold us on the burger was the spectacular taste," said Michael Hutchinson, the owner of Hut's, which is regularly voted as having the best burgers in Austin and is known nationwide for its innovative menu. "Our customers love it. It tastes like the beef you used to be able to get 150 years ago-like the beef you might have eaten on cattle drives. It's got big, authentic Texas flavor. Having the beef come from an Animal Welfare Approved ranch is an added bonus, because Austin is a town that cares about sustainable agriculture and animal welfare."
A recent article in The Gothernburg Times caught my eye, Animal welfare activists threaten nation’s agriculture.
Drawing largely on the platform of the industry-supported Alliance for the Future of Agriculture in Nebraska (A-FAN), the author presents us with two options:
1) shore up agriculture as is – meaning the large factory farms that currently supply us with most of our animal protein, or
2) a vegan utopia in which animals are afforded the same rights as people, and pigs are treated like puppies.
Other articles (Farmers, activists at odds over animal treatment; Michigan’s 2 competing animal welfare proposals) echo this sentiment. A-FAN’s field director says that the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is, “working to create a vegetarian society,” pointing out that less than 4% of their budget goes to regional animal shelters with the majority going to lobbying. He goes on to say, “Animal agriculture is too important to [Nebraska] to allow organizations like HSUS to take it away from us.”
I would like to propose an alternative to this dichotomy. I believe it is possible to raise farm animals in outdoor systems that are truly based on animal welfare – not merely on providing the bare essentials and subtherapeautic antibiotics. Our current dependence on factory farming has left us with more than just so-called cheap food. What we save in the store we are paying out the back end in polluted groundwater, tainted meat, rampant animal cruelty, antibiotic-resistant pathogens and and long-term health and wellness issues. High-welfare, pasture-based farms offer an alternative to this scenario, and are by no means a threat to agriculture; in fact, they may indeed provide the solution.
The farmers in the Animal Welfare Approved program adhere to standards of humane husbandry that take into account the animals’ natural behaviors. Pigs wallow, hens forage and scratch, and cows graze – all freedoms which are denied to most farm animals. As long as we limit our discussion to the merits of factory farming vs. veganism, we ignore the logical line in the middle: animal husbandry that is healthy, safe, environmentally responsible and humane. We know this is possible because the farmers in our program do it every day.