An Affront to the Idea of Family

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An Affront to the Idea of Family

By Marty Martin, PhD
August 2010

What you're supposed to be buying into is the idea that if a family owns a farm it is somehow qualitatively different (and of course, better) than a farm that isn't family owned.

My daughter has given me an extra layer of sensitivity regarding the treatment of female animals. As a woman, I always found it offensive that females are forcibly bred, have their children taken away from them and are milked within an inch of their lives. But now I think about all of that being done to my daughter and I must say the disgust I experience at the notion that a family farm is somehow a wholesome place is a bit overwhelming.

I'm not one of those people who thinks family is composed of only humans or humans who are biologically related. That's one of the reasons adopting wasn't a stretch for me at all mentally.

The idea of family is currently being used by the dairy industry in a series of commercials with the tag line: "99% of dairy farms are family owned." You see midwestern folk in overalls with tired faces. There are children. Girls. They are proud to be dairy farmers.

Of course, you're supposed to hop onto the following train of thought: These are good people. Good Americans, just trying to keep their families together and eke out a living in these tough times. Buying dairy products supports them.

It doesn't matter to me, but let's for a moment examine the 99%. Ninety-nine percent of dairy farms are family owned. That doesn't mean that 99% of dairy products are from family farms, as the average number of cows on each family farm is just over 100. It's not necessarily the case that buying dairy likely supports one of the families that comprise the 99%.

What you're supposed to be buying into is the idea that if a family owns a farm it is somehow qualitatively different (and of course, better) than a farm that isn't family owned. Families, so the commercials go, don't engage in untoward aspects of animal husbandry that might hurt the cows. The cows are walking around green fields, similar to those in the criminally misleading California cows commercials. The cows' tails swing in the breeze. The family isn't wealthy and they're not sophisticated, but they're proud of what they do. And they certainly wouldn't hurt anybody; that's what those big factory farms do that aren't owned by families.

There's an assumption that a unit known as a family is better to deal with than, say, a person who is merely a member of a family and who wears a suit and drives a fancy car rather than a tractor. When it's put that way, doesn't it sound silly? Families are just as capable of horrendous policies toward animals as anyone else. Their goal is to make a profit from the breeding and slaughter of animals. Period. Just ask former cattle rancher Howard Lyman, who is now a vegan and animal rights activist.

My daughter has given me an extra layer of sensitivity regarding the treatment of female animals. As a woman, I always found it offensive that females are forcibly bred, have their children taken away from them and are milked within an inch of their lives. But now I think about all of that being done to my daughter and I must say the disgust I experience at the notion that a family farm is somehow a wholesome place is a bit overwhelming.

One of the most important things about Deb's blog, Invisible Voices, is that many of the fortunate animals who end up at Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary, where she volunteers, came from family farms.

Yes, factory farms are the stuff of nightmares for nonhuman animals. But so are family farms. I don't care about scale. If someone owns me, forcibly breeds me, takes my kids and ends my life, it's a living hell for me.