Farmers and animal rights activists seem as if they would be long-time enemies, but when the culture of the meatpacking industry is broken down, a bigger issue emerges. Four massive meatpacking corporations have monopolized the entire meat industry and both animals and farmers are suffering from it.
Seven Sons farm in rural Indiana is the home to the next generation of the family farm, safe and ethically raised grass-fed, open pasture meats provide a stark contrast to the factory farming that has supplied the meat supply to most Americans. I spoke with Brooks Hitzfield or 5th son who explained to me the Seven Son’s practice of Regenerative Farming, “The way that we are farming we want it to leave our environment better than we found it. Every single year we want to be able to say that the way we are managing our livestock and land is improving our soil health year over year which in turn is going to improve the health of our plants and grass which in turn will improve the health of our animals.”
As pioneers in online distribution of meat products, the Seven Sons Farm now provides software to other farms to help their products reach a larger community. “It was about 2005 when we developed our first website, and that got us a lot of exposure and traction especially when you think products like grass-fed beef and pasteurized meats were less mainstream during that time so the first place people were turning was the internet.” Now during COVID-19, the Seven Sons are already prepared for online ordering and no contact delivery.
There is respect for both the animals and the land that customers appreciate. In the past years, Brooks has even seen an increase in customer interest in the meats processing. In fact, Seven Sons have received no pushback from animal rights activists, probably because of their strict rules on who they partner with to process their meat and commit to secure quality meat from farm to table.
Even high standards for animal care do not meet the demands of many animal rights groups. For example, Dr. Karen Davis from United Poultry Concerns (UPC) preaches a vegan and cruelty-free lifestyle. When asked about safe farming practice, such as that of Seven Sons, she finds that “when you get into the details of animal farming, the word humane and ethics just don’t apply, not compared to how you would want your dog, or your cat, or yourself to be treated.” In her career, there have been many triumphs, but she understands how “fragile many of these victories are because of the nature of what we are up against.” One of the biggest, she says is campaigning against the force molting hens and pushes both the United Egg Producers and the American Veterinary Association, after years of acceptance and endorsement, to oppose this mistreatment of hens.
“I should caution you that we are abolitionists, in the sense that we are less concerned with how animals are treated on factory farms than that they are raised for food altogether. We oppose all oppression of all sentient beings, however gentle” was the warning I received by email before interviewing Alex Hershaft, co-founder and president of Farm Animal Rights Movement (FARM), a vegan blogger and holocaust survivor. He was born in Warsaw, Poland during the Second World War. He said, “I empathize with what animals go through because I felt like an animal.” Both Davis’s and Hershaft’s work urges us to see animals as our equals. To treat them as we would like to be treated.
Seven Sons does as well have a standard to which they treat their animals, though those standards look altogether different than that of FARM and UPC Though an outsider may see family farms and animal rights activists as diametrically opposed Hershaft sees them both as “part of the meat industry but they are also the victims. The meat industry has become very monopolized, it’s owned by four major corporations.” Seven Sons, for example, sells straight to consumers but let’s say there is a ranch that provides meats to one of the four large corporations, “It’s not really a free market situation. The ranchers are many and the packers are few. So they are able to dictate the price.”
The lives of the animals and the lives of ranchers are dictated by these large meatpacking corporations and they must be held accountable for the way they treat both the animals they eventually will kill and the farmer’s that they collect the products from. It is a matter of care, respect, and at the end of the day rights. For both animals and workers. We must improve the way we treat all sentient beings on this planet, to lead with compassion rather than corporations’ capitalist agendas.