Nicolette Hahn Niman
Last year, James McWilliams made the inflammatory argument in the New York Times that keeping livestock outdoors can be unsafe for animals and humans, a thesis he now reprises here . Raising animals on pasture is our particular expertise, so we jumped at The Atlantic 's invitation to respond. Regrettably for McWilliams, but fortunately for farm animals, farmers, and consumers, the overwhelming body of scientific evidence confirms what common sense already tells us: animals are happier and healthier when raised with sunshine, fresh air, and grass, and given the opportunity to exercise. Not surprisingly, animals raised on pasture also produce healthier and safer (not to mention tastier) food.
McWilliams asks, "To what extent are animals raised under free-range conditions prone to contracting diseases that can affect humans?" This is indeed an intriguing question. But his articles fail to address it fully, focusing primarily instead on just two narrow issues: Trichinosis in pigs and Salmonella in poultry, both of which, he implies, are more prevalent in outdoor systems.
We'll address Trichinosis and Salmonella momentarily. First, it's important to definitively dispel the suggestion that animals' health (and therefore food safety) is at risk when they spend time outside, a myth deliberated fostered by the animal confinement industry. In fact, the reverse is true: although free-range animals might occasionally be susceptible to a handful of diseases under rare circumstances, overall they have fewer diseases and fewer injuries, and their illnesses are less virulent than those of animals raised in confinement. We know this from both our years of practical experience raising livestock ourselves and working with hundreds of other farms, and from many years of research into the scientific literature. Here's some of what we've learned.