Enjoy that lobster

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We used to call them “animal crazies,” and we could count on them every year to try to take down the Maine Lobster Festival at Rockland. PETA hasn’t taken down the festival, so you can grab a lobster today at Rockland or any time and just about anywhere.

PETA stands for “People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.” The Sandy River Farm Supply store here in New Sharon sells PETA T-shirts, only the shirts read “People Eating Tasty Animals.” I prefer the latter. Had two lobsters three weeks ago at a fund-raiser for the University of Maine women’s basketball team. Yumm.

The PETA stunt for 2018 was paying $3,200 for signs in the Portland Jetport. It’s an old trick. Attack flesh eaters on their home ground, in this case lobster ground.

Lobsters are “individuals,” not food, one sign reads. According to a story on Thursday in the Sun Journal, PETA also put up a poster of a lobster holding a sign that read, “I’m ME, Not MEAT.” Another read, “Go Vegan.”

PETA can’t claim much success at yanking Americans from animal protein. Vegetarian Times says 3.2 percent of Americans, or 7 million, are vegetarians. Of those, 0.5 percent (half a million) are vegans, who shun the use of every animal product. The Veganbits website puts it even lower, 2 percent or 4 million vegetarian, a quarter of them vegan.

If PETA wants to go after bad practices in the meat industry, fine. More power to it. It has easy, though maybe less flashy, targets in the methods used on factory farms.

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For example, pigs cannot turn around in the steel-pipe crates that are their homes for life. They don’t work off any feed they eat, so they are market-ready a few weeks before the five to six months for a traditionally raised pig. On most poultry farms, turkeys and chickens seldom see the light of day. They, too, walk off less of their feed and are ready for market sooner, for chickens sometimes even before their adult feathers have grown in.

On a train approaching Denver in 1985, we smelled cow manure as we awoke in eastern Colorado. It was several minutes before we passed the feedlot. Even in a train car sealed from outdoors, we could smell manure for miles before and after we passed the cows.

Using feedlots, producers have cut the growth time to as little as 12 months from the 22-24 months needed for cows on pasture. Feedlot animals are packed in so tightly that if a dead cow goes unnoticed for a day or so, the manure will pile up around it and no one will know it had died until the herd is counted at the start of its final trip. Or when the bulldozers come in to scrape out the manure to ready the feedlot for the next herd.

The thread is clear. Conventional growers limit the movement of their animals to get them to market sooner. Faster turnaround should mean more profit. But it usually means lower prices for the meat. That pleases stores and food shoppers, but it isn’t good for the animals, it isn’t good for the environment and it isn’t good for the quality of the meat.

Animals need to move around, just as you and I do. The environment needs to be used less intensively. The meat needs time to develop flavor and healthfulness.

PETA should focus on attacking factory farming rather than the 96.8 percent of us who eat animal protein. Take it from three guys who have lived and/or worked on farms.

Noel Perrin farmed in Thetford, Vermont. He raised beef on a sidehill farm. He noted, in his book “Third Person Rural,” that his cattle lived longer than cattle on feedlots, lived much more comfortable lives and damaged the environment far less, if at all.

He argued that meat animals could be raised on sidehill farms and marginal farm land everywhere. That land in crops can’t be efficiently farmed. And that land would go back to forest if the animals didn’t care for it, grazing the weeds and brush and fertilizing it with their manure, dropped randomly rather than piled up in a small feedlot space. Animals can go where tractors and combines cannot. Can you say, “win, win?”

Michael Pollan pointed out in his book “The Botany of Desire” four species that thrived by making themselves useful to humans. Apples, potatoes, tulips and marijuana became widespread because we desired them. It’s a stretch to say that potatoes could figure out how to advance their species by becoming food for humans, but you can’t deny that potatoes thrive because we eat them.

Pollan’s case transmits easily to the animal kingdom. If eggs weren’t of use to humans, would the scrawnier strains of hen (leghorns, etc.) have thrived? If milk weren’t of use to humans, would the popular breeds (Holstein-Friesian, brown Swiss, Ayrshire, etc.) have thrived? If turkeys weren’t terrific meat-putters-on, would they have moved from their native Mexico to becoming one of the world’s favorite protein sources? Not likely.

When we raised turkeys, we tried to treat the animals well. A turkey on my farm lived, on average, twice longer than a turkey hatched in the wild, where 11 in 12 turkeys don’t survive the five to six months that turkeys lived on my farm. Yes, my turkey’s fate was to become food for humans, but it had a good life outdoors with feed and water and shelter always available. Its end was swift and humane, usually coming within 30 seconds of being picked up and carried into my slaughterhouse.

Compare that to life in nature. Michael Darre, a professor of agriculture at the University of Connecticut, reminds us that, “Nature is one huge slaughterhouse, vast, cruel and efficient.” Hundreds of farms treat animals well. PETA should be helping us, as customers, find animal protein that is humanely and environmentally grown. Stop the stunts and get on with the work.

That’s real change.

Bob Neal buys his meat directly from farmers who nurture their animals. He pays more but gets the highest quality. His shoes and belts are made of cowhide, not petroleum.

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