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Veterinarian speaks on the intersection of stewardship and technology

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

“Design or chance? Purpose or indifference? Sometimes when we’re doing chores or driving down the road, we start thinking about those things on a deep level. Is this here by chance, or is there a design?”

Those are questions asked by Gerald Stokka of Pfizer Animal Health.

“We have to come to grips with that question. The follow up is that, if things are by chance, then I can’t make a difference – this nature I’m looking at is indifferent to me. But, if things are designed, am I here with a purpose?

“I believe all of us are here with a purpose, and I’m grateful my purpose is to be a vet and be involved in animal agriculture,” says Stokka.

However, that belief is far from being shared by all of society today, and is especially not shared by Stokka’s fellow veterinarian Michael W. Fox, who believes that all life is equal, and humans do not have a greater purpose than animals.

“Because our planetary relations are sacred, that leads to the inevitable conclusion that it is unethical to value one life over another. Thus the life of one ant and the life of my child should be given equal consideration,” says Fox in his writings.

Stokka questions what Fox would do if both his daughter and an ant were in a street and being approached by an oncoming vehicle. “Which one would he save? That is functionally stupid, and it doesn’t work,” says Stokka. “A society cannot function that way.”

“Many of us have, for a long time, followed the philosophy written down thousands of years ago. While we don’t necessary articulate it, we follow it,” says Stokka, pointing to Genesis 9:3, which gives humans the authority to use animals for food.

“We raise cattle and slaughter them for food and many other purposes, and this philosophy tells me I’m ok with that,” says Stokka. “We’ve lost this generation, and we haven’t taught them what we use animals for.”

Stokka points out that stewardship is the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care. He gives a cow and her newborn calf as an example.

“Is that by chance? I don’t think so. I have a reverence for these creatures and what they’re able to do. I have a responsibility to provide wind protection and a little feed occasionally, and I depend on her to do a lot of things without me, and I don’t think it’s by chance,” he says.

“We get criticized for being factory farms, because the belief is that we make every decision based strictly on economics. How many ranchers have ever put a calf in a bathtub? I have to ask students why they think someone would put a calf in a bathtub. Is that an economic decision? We could save time and effort and let the calf die, but that’s not who we are. We feel we have a responsibility to these creatures,” he continues.

Technology also gets a bad rap today in relation to food production and nutrition, says Stokka.

“One of the major advances in the last century is refrigeration. Today you can go anyplace in U.S. and find fresh milk, and that doesn’t happen all by itself. That kind of infrastructure and technology isn’t in place everywhere in the world. We enjoy a lot of things because of technology.”

“The word technology has almost become a profanity – that somehow we are poisoning people by its use,” he says, pointing to antibiotics, vaccine, growth enhancement, parasiticides, estrus regulation and behavior modification as a few examples. “Through them we are able to feed the world by caring for animals with responsible resource management and the prudent use of technology.”

Along with technology, Stokka says there’s much dogma, or beliefs without scientific evidence, association with nutrition.

“Beef has been bashed for 30 years without any scientific evidence,” he says, using heart disease as an example and quoting from the book Good Calories, Bad Calories, “For a modern disease (heart disease) to be related to an old-fashioned food (fat) is one the most ludicrous things I have ever heard in my life.”

“It’s important for us to have the facts behind us. An analysis of 21 studies on the relationship of dietary saturated fat and coronary heart diseased showed there’s no significant evidence to conclude it’s associated with increased risk or cardiovascular disease,” he explains, suggesting that the health problems might instead be caused by those things that have been used to replace saturated fat.

He ends with a quote from Norman Borlaug that puts nutritional priorities in perspective: “While the affluent nations can certainly afford to adopt ultra low risk positions, and pay more for food produced by the so-called organic methods, the one billion chronically undernourished people of the low income food deficit nations cannot.”

“We need to merge the disciplines of philosophy, animal husbandry and animal science, or technology,” he says.

Gerald Stokka presented his information at the 2010 Wyoming Stock Growers Association Winter Roundup in Casper mid-December. Christy Martinez is managing editor of the

Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at

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