All cows eat grass

DSCF5171_cropThe new friendship (if that is what it is to be) between Helen and Rob Titchener is across an ideological divide. Helen is wedded to the organic principles of Bridge Farm, where the dairy herd is about to go under the hammer. Rob is the manager of the ‘mega-dairy’ which has created so much controversy. Helen and her family are in the business of creating ‘premium products’ with a traceable provenance: even though they will no longer produce their own milk they maintain that their customers will want to know where it is sourced. Rob’s view is that what the market needs is a secure and cheap supply of milk which his enterprise will supply: ‘not everyone can afford to shop at Ambridge organics’.
At one level the dispute seems simple: Rob is turning farming into an industrial process in which the cows are no more than machines which turn whatever they are fed into milk. They will spend all of their days inside, never apparently seeing the sun or tasting a blade of grass. ‘It’s unnatural!’ But the cows will be housed in clean and airy sheds and will have the best of veterinary attention. It is never in the farmer’s interest to keep an unhappy or stressed animal. As he pointed out to Helen, who is to say that his cows are any less happy than those who spend part of the year outside eating grass but are denied that through the winter?
There are those who argue that in a way Rob’s position is more honest than Helen’s; my vegan friend tells me that she believes that drinking the milk of another animal is fundamentally unnatural. If one’s starting point is that human beings have the right to exploit other animals, then provided that is done efficiently and without cruelty, wherein lies the problem?
Tim Gibson (in Church and Countryside: Insights from Rural Theology) argues that rural theology needs to take account of two relationships – those between human beings and those between human beings and the non-human creation. Does Rob’s position prioritize the first and Helen’s the second? Or is it less simple than that?


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