One of the best things about the return to spring is the return to ‘grill season’. My husband is quite the ‘master griller’ and likes to try new recipes all the time. In the hands of a good cook, I can’t tell the difference between ‘free range,’ ‘grass-fed,’ or ‘organic’ from anything else—(except the price tag, of course). But now, in addition to the price, a health study points to another possible reason to give pork raised indoors preference over those raised in ways that some consumers now prefer.

The journal Foodborne Pathogens and Disease last year sampled more than 600 pigs in North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin and found that free-range pigs carried much higher rates of salmonella than confinement-raised pigs; (54% vs 39%). “Free range” also had much higher rates of toxoplasmosis (6.8% vs 1.1%), and two carried the parasite trichina (zero confined pigs had it). That’s kind of troubling, considering toxoplasmosis is considered the third-leading cause of death in food-borne illnesses.

But you know for me, the thing that causes even more concern than this ‘contaminated free-range meat’ study, is the motivation behind the choices that are steering a non-farming, common sense consumer towards ‘free range’ or ‘cage free’ in the first place; it has to do with ‘feelings’.

Feelings. Fuzzy close-ups of kittens, puppies, little lambs; hey, I get it; I’m an animal lover too. I count a dog, two cats, a hamster, two frogs and three fish as members of our family. They’re almost as important to me as my daughter and husband. But, if my house caught fire, I’d race to save my daughter before my dog.

If you’ve had a child, you may know the important yet different feelings you have for your child and your dog. There’s a place in your heart for your child that defies weeks of colic-induced sleep deprivation, piles of dirty laundry, water-glass rings on new coffee tables, unmade beds, adolescent eye-rolling, hours of off-key clarinet practices and every other kind of teenage transgression yet to come.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has a lot of information on their website about the ‘feelings’ of hogs and cattle and chickens. They talk about ‘feelings’ because their purpose isn’t really to get us to be a little more decent to each other; it’s to turn us all into vegetarians (vegetarians who give them a lot of money so they can continue lobbying on Capitol Hill!) They want you to love that hog you’ve never met as much as the dog slumbering at the end of your bed and the child you’ve birthed. But to me—someone who has lived on a farm, has a child, and now lives in suburbia and continues to love animals—I have a problem with that. And that problem is called ‘common sense’.

Common sense dictates real farm experience before opinions are formed. Common sense acknowledges generations of animal caretaker knowledge (and yes, ‘feelings’) of Iowa farmers who know more than a thing or two about the creatures they’ve dedicated their families’ lives to raising.

Now if you’d rather have a hog sleeping on the foot of your bed every night, playing fetch with your daughter, going for long walks on a leash, then yeah—I guess you’d easily be swayed into a vegetarian lifestyle. That’s fine—thank goodness our great country is all about choices. But as for me, I’d rather keep the dog on the leash and the pork chop on the grill. That’s the kind of common sense that keeps me coming back for second helpings.

Written by Laurie Johns
Laurie Johns is Public Relations Manager for the Iowa Farm Bureau.