Emily Kern, Caitlyn Hogue, Reid Rutar, Dylan Schufeldt, and Ryan Cloyd
Throughout the world, most societies have some economic dependency on the exploitation of animals. Using animals to advance human lives has been something commonly done by people for as long as domestication has been around. Since its founding, Omaha has not been immune to this trend. As a city on the frontier of the Midwest, the business of livestock has been important to the culture and economy of Omaha. For this project, the group aims to conduct research to better understand how the exploitation of animals has contributed to the growth and development of Omaha.
In reference to the animals being exploited, this project mainly focuses on livestock. The dictionary definition of livestock is an animal that is regarded as an asset. This definition introduces the idea that animals are commonly thought of as nothing more than figures on a spreadsheet. The majority of livestock discussed in this paper will be about will be cattle, although fowl and pigs are also included throughout the research. For an animal to be ‘exploited’ usually means that that animal is slaughtered for meat. It could, however, also mean that an animal creates a product without necessarily being killed. This paper will explore the exploitation of the animals in regards to their living conditions prior to being slaughtered.
The sociological importance of animals being exploited for profit means that the animals are killed, mistreated, or live dull lives in cramped captivity. This leads to discussion about the ethics of treating animals this way, and also leads to the question of how humans go about justifying this exploitation. This idea of human superiority over animals is of great sociological importance as it demands a logical rationale and explanation of just what gives humans superiority.
The first steps towards gathering data was to look for scholarly articles or journals that pertained to the project’s theme. To do this, the group accessed databases and searched using keywords such as livestock, animals, exploitation, Omaha, etc. to find data that would be useful for the project. For the data and sources collected, it was important that it either directly or indirectly tied into Omaha. Directly refers to something that happened in Omaha. Indirectly refers to something that took place somewhere else but had a direct effect on Omaha. An example of this would be a law that might be passed that is state or nationwide and therefor affects Omaha. Some of the sources found from the databases are older and discussed the history of the livestock industry in Omaha. While the group wanted to use more recent articles and sources, some of the older sources were kept to provide insight into Omaha’s history.
For secondary data, the group looked to the internet to find data from reputable sources that would help beef up the project. As a group, it was determined that the project would find the most benefit from accessing newspapers, journals, collegiate articles, studies that had been conducted, and laws/regulations. The sources include connections to Lincoln and Omaha. The importance of the included secondary data is it offers valuable qualitative insight of this issue as it relates to Omaha. Secondary data offers new topics of discussion and also ties this topic into current events that are happening in the real world today. Similarly, to scholarly articles, the group preferred to have the included secondary data be as current as possible, preferably being published within the past decade.
Once the group members individually collected these two types of data, everyone discussed the findings together. This allowed for shared knowledge between the whole group. The next step was to code all of the information collected into a meaningful system to organize the information. It was conducted individually at first, then the group met to decide what method of coding would work for everyone. The next step decided on was to color code the data with five major themes in mind: Fear of Losing Money, Laws/Regulations, Economic History, Animal Abuse and Rights, and UNL Connection. Using these themes as an outline, the data was organized in a way that was useful to finally forming the project.
Fear of Losing Money
The meat of these issues takes place in a capitalistic country where economic concepts will be relevant, and a main factor influencing both sides of this political dichotomy. As it applies in these scenarios, a group of people or a person has concerns relating to the margins of profit of his company and/or its affiliates. This is what gives the attribute of sustainability. With a fear of losing money, there are incentives to maximize incomes, and minimize spending. This is evident throughout the resources we’ve seen.
That idea of sustainability is particularly important. According to a statement by Phillip Ellis published in the World Herald on December 4th of 2015, “Issues affect our ability to run our operations and run them successfully”. The author also noted “He and other cattle industry leaders have been stomping out flames on issues that threaten the sustainability of their livelihoods and consumer confidence in the foods they produce.” Here are the main concepts of capitalism coming to light. Markets are a cycle of goods and services being purchased by consumers. Under the scrutiny of the customer, the lower quality goods will be sold less, and the higher quality goods will be purchased more, thus delivering data to the executives of any practicing entity. Since the purpose is to sell more, political leverage to these goals will be confronted by those who have financial interests in the relevant field.
Aside from political lobbying, there are other methods applied to suppress the fear of losing money. According to volume 99, issue 1 of a publication in the Journal of Dairy Science in January of 2016, quantities and properties of cattle are directly related to economic efficiency, and are thereby calculated and recorded for the purpose of maximizing profits. This aspect of the fear of losing money is isolated to having relevant factors which produce higher profit margins and does not consider any others when computing.
Another theme that much of the research had in common was regulations. In a business as large as the meat industry, it is no surprise that there would be regulations. A few of the articles of the secondary data include the Animal Welfare Act of Nebraska, Dealer Regulations for Selling Livestock, and regulations/protocols for diseased animals. These regulations provide the knowledge of why animals are treated the way they are, as products for financial gain. While animal abuse is not outright permitted, certain situations of neglect and abuse can slide under the radar because of careful wording or loopholes.
The role of loopholes created by regulations allows animal abuse to happen and it prevents money from being lost. These are seen as unavoidable effects that must happen in the industry. In reading the secondary data on livestock dealer regulations, it does not appear to be in favor of animal rights but rather a standardized process of how livestock agriculture should be handled. For example, on page 11 of Livestock Dealer Regulations 009.03B states, “slaughter swine, except garbage-fed swine, may move through a concentration point…” (Wise, 11). The concept of “garbage-fed swine” is then mentioned again in 009.03C when it states, “garbage-fed slaughter swine shall move to immediate slaughter,” (Wise, 11). Upon further research the term “garbage-fed” was discovered to mean, “food plate waste,” (Westendorf, 1). This regulation specific to the state of Nebraska allows livestock dealers and farmers to feed their swine food waste, aka “garbage” and then lead them to slaughter, despite health risks this practice may pose to consumers. This is only one example of how regulations allow animals to be mistreated in order to save money instead of buying normal feed for pigs.
While regulations are discussed in the secondary data, they are present throughout the groups’ scholarly articles as well. In “The Political Trade-Off Between Environmental Stringency and Economic Development in Rural America” the political economy model was taken into consideration in order to try to predict certain area’s future regulations based on their potential for water pollution. It also discussed how regulations can be (and are) affected by politics. This can be seen in the article on page 557 when the author discusses the political economy approach. The author explains that “the political economy approach to the determination of environmental regulatory stringency finds that the government balances a number of different objectives in order to maximize its own welfare (i.e. gaining reelection) when setting policy.” (Lawley, 557). This quote illustrates how politics affects regulations and that certain politicians responsible for regulations will focus more on the benefits they will receive personally rather than the outcome of the regulation. This article also offered predictions as to how livestock regulations will be implemented and affected over time mainly stating that the higher the risk areas have, the more the government will regulation.
Another article that discussed the theme of regulations was “Profit Optimization for Cattle Growing in a Randomly Fluctuating Environment.” The main focus of this article was how to make the most money off of livestock by using mathematical equations. The mathematical equations would be used to establish the optimal age and weight to slaughter or sell an animal. For example, these equations used on their dataset of 97 females of Mertolengo cattle that were studied from the time they were 0.6 to 18 years old established “the optimal selling age to be 1.05 years for 3.25 euros/kg,” (Filipe, 17). If a high percentage of people use these equations, it can be used as a regulation for the industry.
Both the secondary data and scholarly articles discussed the role that regulations play in exploiting livestock for a profit. Regulations allow livestock dealers, farmers, and meat-packing plants to treat animals a certain way including feeding them garbage in order to maximize their profits. While regulations can help to establish the ways in which something must be done, they also provide loopholes in which individual farmers or companies can allow poor treatment of their animals while abiding said regulation. This secondary data and scholarly articles proved that regulations don’t always do much to help the animals being exploited in human’s quest for profit.
With a project focused on exploitation for financial gain knowing a location’s economic
history is crucial. Because of the articles included in the group’s secondary data the group learned more about how the livestock industry in Nebraska came to be. “Critics: Hispanics
exploited in Omaha meatpacking jobs” discussed how the wages have changed over the past few
years “decreasing from $12 an hour to sometimes as low as $6.50 an hour,” (Walton). The idea of bringing livestock here was introduced in 1882 and shows how that affected Nebraska’s economy and put Omaha on the map in “Our Livestock Legacy” and “Beef State: The Omaha Stockyards.” Much of the stockyard’s history has a very strong South Omaha community connection. The stockyards’ stability directly relates towards the sense of community in South Omaha and its history.
In 1882, a Scottish emigrant named Alexander Swan urged Omaha business leaders to consider creating a stockyard. He knew that Omaha was a perfect place for a cattle stockyard, due to the thriving cattle industry of the surrounding area and Omaha’s central location. At the time, the major stockyard in the Midwest was in Chicago, but Omaha was much closer to many of the larger cattle farms. Omaha also was a natural choice for the stockyards because of its location on the Missouri River and the fact that it was the location of the Union Pacific headquarters.
Animal Abuse and Rights
Under the umbrella of Animal Rights, not only are there animal rights activists promoting better conditions from livestock agriculture, but Nebraska’s own Governor is combatting those activist groups. It would appear that not only is this issue working against the livestock plants, but Nebraska’s own government. Based on an article from the Omaha World Herald, Governor Pete Rickets advises that the efforts from an animal rights group to address abuse at a livestock facility would be a wasted effort. At the time the article was printed, Governor Rickets refused to allow these groups a manner to express their plans.
While this project focuses on exploitation of animals for financial gain, a theme that was present throughout many articles was animal abuse. A global and national problem, the secondary data discusses examples of animal abuse on a national and local level. “Nebraska Bill Part of Growing Battle over Animal Abuse Videos” briefly discussed two cases of animal abuse. The first talked about cows being led to slaughter in California by being run into with a forklift, and the second was about how a video showing employees skinning veal alive in Vermont led to the plant being closed. The article “U.S Research Lab Lets Livestock Suffer in Quest for Profit” also discussed animal abuse, but on a local scale. Published by the New York Times, this article talked about a research lab in Clay Center, Nebraska that abuses and neglects its animals in order to find ways to make more profits. Their abuse and neglect includes leaving baby sheep and their mothers out in the fields with no protection to create “easy to handle” sheep, and forcing animals to have twins and triplets in order to make money despite health risks. The livestock animal welfare act gives more details to real scenarios relating to animal welfare.
Animal abuse connects with the project’s other themes and the main project in a few ways. Based on the research conducted, animal abuse seems to almost be written off as a means to an end in order to earn a profit. It seems as if animal abuse is seen as an unavoidable issue when it comes to financial gain.
In “Cruel Intimacies and Risky Relationships: Accounting for Suffering in Industrial Livestock Production,” N. Purcell uses the word intimacy as a way to describe “mutual experience of aﬀecting and being aﬀected by another.” This is referring to the relationship between humans and livestock. Some groups of animal advocates think that if there is a stronger emotional awareness would make it more uncomfortable to humans to treat them as unfairly as they currently do. This is due to the higher level of an emotional disconnection some feel towards the animals, the easier it is for people to forget that they are also living beings. Many cattle do not have the ability to graze for a long time due to it has become more efficient to feed them in highly populated feedlots.
A survey conducted at a dairy farm captures the reactions of participants that toured livestock farms. There was a survey both before and after the tour; When the article begins to discuss the results, it classifies them into seven themes in regards to the “before” survey. One of the graphs seen below shows the number of correct responses to questions prior to the survey versus the number of correct responses after the tour. There is a clear increase in correct responses after the tour. The results show that in order to improve animal welfare, livestock industries must engage the industry stakeholders in other ways than one way educations (Ventura).
UNL is mentioned in a few secondary data articles which provides a local connection for this project. In the controversial article published by the New York Times titled, “U.S. Research Lab Lets Livestock Suffer in Quest for Profit,” UNL is mentioned because the lab employs students from the university. UNL is also mentioned in “Companies see ‘new industry’ as they turn crop residues into livestock feed” because at the time of publication the University of Nebraska – Lincoln was administering a trial to test the new product. Both of these articles share the common theme that the University of Nebraska at Lincoln plays a part in the livestock industry whether if their role is positive or negative.
The University of Nebraska Lincoln has played a large role in Nebraska’s economic history. Even now as discussed in “Companies see ‘new industry’ as they turn crop residues into livestock feed,” UNL is helping Nebraska’s economy by administering the trial that could create new jobs and more profit, if successful. The trial is centered around preventing companies, and Nebraska, from losing money on the livestock feed they currently use. Unfortunately, UNL is also connected to the animal abuse at Clay Center because some of its students are employed there. Because of loopholes created by state regulations, the research lab is able to employ students from the university instead of certified veterinarians because it is a research lab and not a meatpacking plant.
In conclusion, the group’s main goal for this project was to focus on the exploitation of animals for financial gain. As the project progressed, specific examples of animal abuse and how it seemed to be justified based on the fact that money was being made was discovered. Because Omaha is the home to Omaha Steaks, it was assumed that Nebraska’s economy had a certain dependency on the meat and livestock industry however, the knowledge of how strong that dependency was became clearer as the project progressed. This project’s research has showed that the entire state is dependent upon this industry, not just Omaha. The meat-processing industry accounts for 21% of total state manufacturing employment in the state of Nebraska, (Lawley, 550) and that the University of Nebraska at Lincoln plays a part in animal abuse cases. Most societies throughout the world have at least some economic dependency on the exploitations of animals, the research for this project proved that Nebraska, and Omaha, is one of those societies.
“Beef State: The Omaha Stockyards.” Beef State: The Omaha Stockyards. Nebraska PBS, n.d. Web. 27 Nov. 2016.
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Ventura, B. A., von Keyserlingk, M. G., Wittman, H., & Weary, D. M. (2016). What Difference Does a Visit Make? Changes in Animal Welfare Perceptions after Interested Citizens Tour a Dairy Farm. Plos ONE, 11(5), 1-18. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0154733