RELIGION is increasingly being used against animal agriculture and, in some cases, is taken too far, according to Nelson D. Kloosterman, executive director of Worldview Resources International.
A minister, professor and ethicist, Kloosterman believes the reason religion has become an effective anti-animal agriculture argument is because of religious illiteracy on the part of activist groups as well as, to some extent, the general public.
Most troubling to Kloosterman are the cases of clear and intentional abuse of religion. For proof of this, he noted that one need only look at the "faith resources," religious sources, religious curricula and educational materials for churches and Sunday schools that have been developed for children and adults.
Kloosterman, who said he has spent time on a hog farm but is by no means a farmer nor has any vested interest in animal agriculture, is concerned about what effect such blatant misuse of religion may have on the nation's hungry and poor.
Kloosterman admits that his belief is generally more along the lines of classic or historic religion, which calls for respect for animals and attention to animal welfare but clearly allows for animals to be raised for the benefit of humans.
He firmly believes that nowhere in the Bible or scripture does it say that humans, animals and plants are equal or that it is wrong to use animals.
"Humans are inherently superior. By virtue of their maker, it is okay for humans to benefit from plants and animals, as long as they do not abuse them," he said, pointing to the part in the Bible when God came to Noah after the flood and repeated the creation mandate, or the cultural mandate. God said to Noah (in Genesis 9:3), "Every moving thing that lives shall be food to you." Kloosterman said he reads this passage to mean that humans are permitted to eat meat with delight and joy.
Psalm 8:6-8 says, "You have given men dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the sea."
Kloosterman interprets that as giving humans permission to exercise their dominion over animals like pigs, cows and chickens and does not see it as immoral, deviant or abnormal.
One truly can say that everything God has given us on this Earth is created for good, for our use and for our enjoyment, as long as we receive it with thanksgiving, which is to say, as long as we receive it with humble submission, Kloosterman said. He emphasized that dominion and use of animals for human benefit is in no way exploitation of animals.
Kloosterman has three recommendations for animal agriculture that he believes will help in reclaiming and reframing the religion-based arguments being waged by activists.
First, he said, animal agriculture must practice what he refers to as "comprehensive transparency." Agriculture must become confident enough with what it is doing and why it is doing it to let consumers "in the barn." The public needs to see where their food comes from.
Second, Kloosterman said agriculture must move beyond advocacy to what he terms public service. This doesn't mean that advocacy is unimportant or that the industry should ignore legislative initiatives that affect food animal production, but in terms of public image, advances need to be made beyond serving only producers to messaging that better serves the public.
Likewise, Kloosterman said animal agriculture must do a better job of recognizing that, like it or not, the customer is king. In the construction business, he joked, that is called the "pink backhoe perspective." If the only way to secure a job is to use a pink backhoe, that is basically what you do to get the business.
Admittedly, that often does require out-of-the-box thinking and solutions. In the case of animal agriculture, that could well mean a mental shift, of sorts, Kloosterman said.
Producers need to remind themselves that they are not just accountable to but accountable for those people who consume the products they produce, as well as for the animals. This is his definition of stewardship.
Last, Kloosterman said, a partnership with animal science educators is essential. While it will take an investment of resources, animal agriculture needs message-makers, communicators, people who are able to meet the opposition on its turf with language, definitions, ideas and concepts.
"We live in challenging times that require a confident identity that links us to the past, motivates us in the present and propels us to meet a future filled with new possibilities and opportunities. It is my conviction that the notion of stewardship or vocation supplies that identity and offers a powerful answer to the alternative messages facing animal agriculture. Indeed, there is dignity in the raising of animals for food," Kloosterman said.