Megnut

fountain_prairie_highland_.jpgIf we want to save them, we must eat them! "Just as the Bald Eagle and Panda Bear are on the brink of extinction in the wild, so are numerous varieties of livestock like Bourbon Red turkeys, Red Wattle pigs, Tunis sheep, Barred-Plymouth Rock chickens and Iroquois corn flour...Heritage Foods USA exists to help accomplish this goal by selling foods from small farms to consumers and wholesale accounts." You can buy Six-Spotted Berkshire pork, heritage turkeys, French Dewlap Toulouse Geese, American Kobe Beef, and even bison. It's strange to think that in order to save nearly extinct species we need to eat them, but if there's no market for these varieties, no one will farm them.

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I love your Idea, great thinking

Forgive this metaphor, it's the only one I can think of. In pre-Civil War America, if the number of black people started to dwindle, wouldn't this be like saying: "In order to ensure black people don't go extinct, everyone must own a slave"? In other words: it makes economic sense to do this, but not necessarily ethical sense. Is it worth it for a species to thrive if it only thrives to be eaten?

I don't have time to pull references, but it is my understanding that this is basically the reason that american bison still exist - because of the growing market for their meat (buffalo burgers, etc.).

Adam - People are going to eat meat, plain and simple. The only choice is whether they all eat one breed of a given meat, or whether we can maintain diversity. I vote for maintaining diversity.

Oh, and though it's not regulated or anything, I bet 100% of the heritage livestock being raised for food have a MUCH better quality of life than commercially raised livestock. If you are going to eat meat (or run a restaurant that serves meat) why not buy meat from animals that had a better quality of life?

The logic of Heritage Foods is a pretty common libertarian argument, and one I think is pretty poorly suited as a general ecological strategy. This reminded me of a dust up last year after libertarian economist Barun Mitra wrote an editorial for the NYT called "Sell The Tiger To Save It," available with responses on at the Save the Tiger Fund website (no permalink - scroll down).

Mitra wrote: "[L]ike forests, animals are renewable resources. If you think of tigers as products, it becomes clear that demand provides opportunity, rather than posing a threat. For instance, there are perhaps 1.5 billion head of cattle and buffalo and 2 billion goats and sheep in the world today. These are among the most exploited of animals, yet they are not in danger of dying out; there is incentive, in these instances, for humans to conserve. So it can be for the tiger....Yet for the last 30 or so years, the tiger has been priced at zero, while millions of dollars have been spent to protect it and prohibit trade that might in fact help save the species."

While there are several unique problems for this argument when it's applied to tigers, ecologist Grace De Gabriel says in no uncertain terms: "If a century of wildlife conservation has taught our species anything, it is that putting a price on the head of an endangered animal hastens its march toward extinction. From the slaughter of the great whales, to devastated elephant populations, to the plight of the mighty tiger, the commercial market has proven more threat than panacea. Undaunted, Mitra proposes that we "think of tigers as products" and begin farming these thousand pound carnivores just as we do sheep and goats. It is good that advocates for the bald eagle and other recovering species in this country considered more than the market for feathers."

Your last sentence seems to imply that no farming = no animals, but it seems like there are other ways these animals could be preserved. Do they still exist in the wild? Then why not protect their habitat? If they don't, why not keep them in zoos or preserves?

This isn't to suggest that the lack of biodiversity in industrial farming isn't alarming and in need of creative solutions. I'm just not buying the extinction argument.

Thanks for bringing attention to Heritage Foods USA and the great things they do. We had the pleasure of sampling a wide variety of their products at New Q in Atlanta.

Another species that they are helping to protect is the small farmer. I have also had the pleasure of meeting folks like Mark Newman of Newman Farm in Myrtle, MO (http://www.newmanfarm.com/). The passion and dedication that they have is every bit as satisfying as the meat and produce they raise.

Nate - Some interesting points in there, but I think it's worth noting that tigers, whales, and elephants are all wild animals rather than domesticated farm animals. A bunch of greedy poachers are likely to collectively decimate the population of such a species in the wild, but no farmer I've met kills every animal in his flock without a plan for next year. Heritage Foods has already proven itself by vastly increasing the population of several turkey breeds.

As these are domesticated breeds, their "natural habitat" is a farm. So yes, no farming = no animals.

Finally, zoos? Seriously? Forgetting the fact that plenty of people think zoos are inhumane, are people really going to go to the zoo to see eight different breeds of chickens?

I think arguments about tigers and heritage animals have some similarity, but I think we also need to think of heritage breeds as a Noah's Ark for agriculture specifically. They provide diversity that is valuable to use because it provides different tastes, adaptions, and at least somewhat different genetic profiles. When a new disease crops up, a diverse genetic stock would mean there is more genetic material to draw from when looking for resistant animals. It is also important as the climate and farming systems change (slowly...unfortunately). Holsteins might not be the best breed for a permaculture farm or a desert landscape.

Rory - Like I said, there are unique issues for tigers (poaching was the big one I had in mind), but I still think the Mitra debate is helpful.

The quote Meg cited says "Just as the Bald Eagle and Panda Bear are on the brink of extinction in the wild, so are numerous varieties of livestock like Bourbon Red turkeys, Red Wattle pigs, Tunis sheep, Barred-Plymouth Rock chickens and Iroquois corn flour. If we want to save them, we must eat them! And Heritage Foods USA exists to help accomplish this goal by selling foods from small farms to consumers and wholesale accounts." This means: "Group A (traditional "endanger species") is endangered in the wild. Group B (less exotic endanger species) is endangered in the wild. Small farming solves the problem for Group B." If I made a factual error in assuming these animals once existed in the wild, it was caused by a grammatical error here.

Some quick googling reveals that we were mostly wrong:

Bourbon Red turkeys: Cross bread developed in Kentucky - Early 20th Century?
Red Wattle pigs: Origins unclear, imported in 1700's, rediscovered in the wild in Texas
Tunis sheep: Origin unknown - Northern Africa, "one of the oldest living breeds"
Plymouth Rock chickens: Cross-breed, post-Civil War

For breeds that were created in captivity, never existed in the wild, and have no habitat that could be protected, I'm not sure why the extinction argument carries water. There likely wouldn't be the same ecological concerns that are normally raised when we think of species extinction. Namely, because they are isolated from any natural ecosystem, there is no concern about a ripple effect on other species. Like I said, biodiversity in the populations of animals "traditionally" raised for food in the U.S. is also a concern (because of things like disease), but I see that as a separate issue from the appeal that's being made here. I also think it's primarily caused by HOW we farm, not WHAT we farm.

If it's a species we created and that has remained "under our control," I also don't think there'd be the same moral concerns species extinction generally raises. To put it as crassly as possible, it's not "playing God" but "Pack It In, Pack It Out." "As a vegan," [Disclaimer: the above and below is my attempt to feel out with a complex set of issue I haven't much thought about before. I'm open to change, and my views probably don't represent those of all or most vegans.] I think ANY animal dying is sad and should be avoided, but I'm also aware of the pragmatic reality you point out above: most people will eat meat for the foreseeable future. To me, it makes more sense to focus my moral outrage on changing the way animals are raised and killed, and encouraging people to reduce their meat consumption. From that perspective, the small scale nature of these farms is laudable. But coming up with different kinds of animals we can artificially support so that we can eat them still doesn't make sense to me.

Zoos: They often ARE cruel, but certainly not always or always in the same way. And they nevertheless play an increasingly important role in species preservation. Plus, ALL farms end in an unnatural death for EVERY animal, so even if the concept of zoos involves some fundamental cruelty, they still seem better than the alternative. Will people go? I don't know. I don't totally understand why people would go see any animal just sit around, but they do. Plus, are you gonna tell me the animals in the picture Meg posted aren't awesome looking? Even those chickens are pretty sweet - they look like zebras. Also, it seems like scarcity and preservation are strong selling points. Pandas are super cute, but I don't think there'd be half the interest if there weren't, like, four of them.

PS - The Bronx Zoo takes substantial credit for restoring the bison population, and bison are some of the ugliest, least exciting animals around. A bison-ranching industry group makes the strongest claim to the contrary I could find, saying the demand for food played "a significant role." Nevertheless, they also say that the commercial bison business didn't really start until the late '60's or really even the late '80's.

Even though I was vegetarian for a long time, I think it's a little odd that many people are only commenting on animal welfare, extinction, and so forth.

Sure, I'm all for diversity in a biological sense - but what about the diversity of the human (esp. American) diet? Isn't there something to be said for raising and promoting these animals as food products for our OWN well-being?

It's a hard thing to say and to back-up. I know economically it's very difficult to promote a diverse food market in low income areas, and sometimes it is socially difficult to get people to accept new or different things even if they can afford them. And those who can afford it sometimes extrapolate too much and come to believe that (for instance) all bison meat is better than beef alternatives, possibly leading to corn-fed bison with all the same issues beef cattle have to deal with today.

But at the end of the day, at least the option is out there. I can't see this as a bad thing.

The fact remains that farming is a business and no matter what other reasons a producer has for does what he or she does, the bottom line is, well, the bottom line. No one is going to grow old breeds unless there is a demand and in the end that demand has to come from consumers.

Genetic diversity is important because different breeds taste different and for the species' own survival, but remember that what we're talking about are breeds, not species, of pigs, cows and goats. These are artificially defined animals types to begin with.

And finally, let's not confuse raising heritage animals with good husbandry practices. While I suspect there is a correlation between the two, there is no cause-and-effect relationship. Duroc hogs could be raised in confinement, too.

I do not understand how vegans and vegetarians can develop such a furor over amoral treatment of animals (and it is cruel, don't get me wrong!), and the majority of our nation doesn't care about the thousands of pre-born humans who are killed and then tossed into dumpsters every day. Isn't a human at least as valuable as a cow, if not more so? Then why don't we do something about that moral outrage?

Um... Krista... pretty profoundly off topic. Sorry if I contributed to the drift.

Although I really shouldn't take the bate, I'll just briefly say that diet and "life/choice issues" both involve large numbers of incredibly complex issues. Although I know many people who are vegan or vegetarian and outraged about "the thousands of pre-born humans who are killed and then tossed into dumpsters every day," I don't think it should be surprising that there are diverse opinions on both issues. And I say the same thing when my "pro-choice" vegan friends make the opposite argument about "pro-life" people.

Looks like this discussion has run its course, so I'm going to close comments. I have more thoughts, I think I'll summarize them in a separate post.

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