Does 4-H desensitize kids to killing?
June 23rd, 2011
11:00 AM ET
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What do farmers have to say about agriculture issues? Hear it straight from them in Farmers With Issues.

4-H stands for "Head, heart, hands, health" and apparently a fifth - for "haters."

To many, 4-H Clubs are all about nurturing sweet little calves, adorable children winning ribbons, urban garden patches and proud future farmers grooming prized pigs for show. To others, it's a calculated system for turning the youth of America into cold, unfeeling animal killers.

When Eatocracy ran a 5@5 feature with chef Kelly Liken on the topic of Five Reasons to Buy from Your Local 4-H earlier this week, we quickly identified within the comments two distinct perceptions of the organization - which was originally set up by the United States Department of Agriculture to train the rural youth of America in hands-on skills like agriculture and raising animals. One was that 4-H promotes responsible animal husbandry and the cultivation of food resources in a responsible, ethical way and the other was that it serves to desensitize children to the suffering of animals.

Here's what commenters to that article had to say:

In cold blood

I don't and would never support the 4-H. This group helps desensitize youngsters into having no emotional attachment to animals raised for food. For those who say no one should have attachment to animals raised for food, I say "of course". This is how the meat industry stays in business. If children are raised to love all animals and not try to see them as products, they would not be interested in seeing them killed. "Listening to the auctioneer and seeing how excited the children get when their animal is purchased is an incredibly fulfilling experience."

Really? Incredibly fulfilling experience. You mean knowing the animal that trusted you from birth is off to be mistreated before being slaughtered! That's fulfilling? Maybe that's because the 4-H has successfully desensitized these children who may have once be appalled by this. It's simply horrific. Shame on you 4-H for what you do to animals and to children. - Heather King

Education, not desensitization

What 4-H does do is promote responsible animal husbandry and the cultivation of food resources in a responsible, ethical way. I accept your position that any killing of animals for food is, in your position, not ethical or moral, however most of us are omnivores and I for one would rather that those producing the meat I choose to eat do so in a humane and ethical way. I respect your position, but I would also hope that you would rather see people brought up to understand, and therefore demand, that there an ethical way to treat an animal even if that animal's eventual purpose is the nourishment of a human being.

Desensitization is the wrong word–education is the right word. These kids (I was one) are not at all desensitized to the process–rather, they are educated about proper raising and care of these animals. Not only was I a member, but growing up we also purchased meat and produce from 4H and FFA members–talk about locally sourced! We could be confident in the quality, origin, and raising of these products in a way we can rarely be in a supermarket. - Value rather than desensitization

A lasting impact

Have you ever been at a 4-H auction? Most of the younger kids end up crying after their animal gets bought and not donated back. As they grow older, they wrap their head around the idea, but when they're first starting out they have a hard time accepting it. It doesn't mean they're "desensitized" to it, it's the fact they they've matured and understand that animal's purpose more as time goes on. - Brianna

The circle of life

Someone asked earlier in the thread how many 4-H kids had actually seen an animal slaughtered. In my club back home (rural Sierra Nevadas), the answer was ALL OF US. We toured the packing houses where our animals would later be slaughtered (note packing HOUSES, as these buildings housed perhaps thirty head at an outside estimate, nowhere near large enough to call a "processing plant"), examined carcasses, viewed the taking of animals lives and the bloodletting afterwards, and were given briefings on the saws and tools used. This while spending hours a day bathing, training, feeding and cleaning up after our own still very alive animals. - 4-H fo'sho'

The value of life

It is really so unevolved. Why are people proud that the kids are crying as they lead their animals onto the trailer to be killed for food? You are teaching them that relationships are disposable. That animals are disposable. NOT A GOOD LESSON, and these poor animals raised as pets are off to the slaughterhouse where they will be tortured before they die. - Kathy

It keeps them off the streets

Small scale food-animal raisers aren't cold blooded killers, they're making money doing what they enjoy doing. If anyone is desensitized to animal life, go to Youngstown [ed: where the commenter grew up] and talk to all the thugs on the street that grew up around murders happening weekly. THEN you'll find someone who doesn't value human or animal life.

If I have kids, you bet they'll be in 4-H. I'd rather see them doing that than doing what most of the people I grew up with did. Kids deserve more of a chance than what drugs, crime and partying can offer them. - Brianna

It should be noted that animal husbandry and sales are only a portion of what 4-H Clubs do. Other former members spoke of "arts and crafts like pottery, painting; outdoor activities like camping, canoeing, kayaking, rock climbing, and...skills like woodworking and leather-working" as well as horse showing and "cooking, photography, jewelry making" and others. Still, with the issue of animal raising and slaughter on the table, we'd like to know what you think in the comments below.

Previously - A day two pigs would die: ethical slaughter

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Filed under: Animal Rights • Buzz • Farmers with Issues • Food Politics • From the Comments • Local Food • Vegan

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    October 10, 2014 at 5:50 pm |
  2. Gabrielle Koltiska

    I am a nine year 4-H member and a four year FFA member. I have raised, and sold livestock, for all 9 years. Those people who view the 4-H and FFA's livestock sales as desensitizing, don't understand the view point from those who are showing, and selling the livestock. And the truth of the matter is, without livestock producers, people would be missing a vital ingredient in a healthy body, as well as a lot blander world. Those who but meat from the store may not understand the production side. That's what FFA and 4-H are about when it comes to livestock. Agriculturists feed the world. Are we being desensitized? No. I feel that we are just learning the basic matters of livestock production. If you have a problem with that, then don't allow your kids to do 4-H or FFA, and don't go to a sale or support 4-H or FFA. We don't need people who don't understand the livestock industry. We,as members, have many supporters and are very thankful! But please don't bash something that you don't understand from the inside. All people and how they grow up and are raised, are different. I'll keep living my life raising livestock to sell at the 4-H and FFA sale, and produce livestock for my little sisters and eventually my kids.

    September 21, 2014 at 11:04 pm |
  3. Dylan

    Woah guys, this is an idiotic premature idea of 4-H! I am a member. Animals are treated better being the pet of 4-hers. The animals are not tortured. Yes animals are donated for meat, but it is willingly, the 4-her doesn't learn that relationships are irrelevant. One of 4-hs goals is to make relationships for everyone and animal better. What would happen if no one was taught how to keep animals? There would not be enough food for humans. Would you be willing to risk your future by shouting down a program like this? Are you willing to go hungry? In the end if 4-h is shut down the skill s of providing food for your family will only die out slowly as less and less people do it. There would not be enough food for our growing number of humans, would you risk shouting down a program that helps provide food? Do you want to be the reason humanity ends? The reason for the apocalypse? Currently 4-hers are only learning how to provide for themselves in the future, and while they do that they are helping provide for others. The meat that comes from the animals that get slaughtered goes to the food bank. When we are fighting about things like world hunger why ask to remove something that can help cure it? Now no person ever said that they wanted 4-h shut down but if everyone out there is going to hate on it then say "oh no! Africans need food!" They are just being stupid. Everyone knows the risks that are involved in getting food. The killing of animals has always been the number one way to get food. Do you know what happens to animals not cared for by 4-hers? Do you know why our food is larger than any normal animal? Animals that are raised specifically for food are taken to laboratories and pumped up with chemicals that not only hurt the animal but make it fatter and more delicious for humans to eat. This article was obviously written by a few people that are hating on 4-h. People that didn't even take the time to research what 4-h is really about, and if that's not the case these people know it and are only posting the parts that could be considered bad and they are exaggerating. It is the job of most reporters and other journalists to exaggerate something into a story. Never believe what someone told you on the internet unless every fact out in the real world says they are right.

    4-h is a good program that helps youth learn how to live life to the fullest with leadership skills, other skill s for life etc. It does not only have livestock but it also has over 20 other programs too. Photography, rocketry, leadership, fine arts, dancing, programming, robotics,etc. Nothing in 4-h originated in 4-h, a 4-her didn't invent the computer. A 4-her didn't invent slaughter. A 4-her didn't invent dancing. A 4-her is just a person who has a goal to change the world. Make the best better. 4-h is the safe place for youth to learn to become an adult. 4-h isn't just a program, it is almost like a family. I am friends with 4-hers all across my state. We are great friends. Now what is wrong with a program that takes everything our country desires to the next level?

    September 18, 2014 at 8:05 pm |
  4. crunchydoc

    If you are going to eat meat, someone has to raise it and kill it. I think the problem is we are hiding the truth of it from kids. Parents are quick to stop at McDonalds for hamburgers and chicken nuggets but no one wants to talk about the conditions the cow and chicken lived in while it was alive. How we raise our food, what we feed it, how kind we are to it, the amount of stress it endures, impacts nutritional quality. I'd eat a 4-H cow over a McDonald's cow any day. Its time we talk about the reality of eating meat and take responsibility for the unethical treatment of animals in the industrialized food system.

    September 18, 2014 at 7:33 am |
  5. Bruce Welty

    Must be underwritten by PETA.

    September 17, 2014 at 8:16 pm |
  6. Eric Vogel

    A previous post referred to a study done by the Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development at Tufts University. "The Positive Development of Youth: Comprehensive Findings from the 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development" is a longitudinal study that began in 2002 and was repeated annually for eight years, surveying more than 7,000 adolescents from diverse backgrounds across 42 U.S. states. Among the findings, 4-H'ers are about:
    Four times more likely to make contributions to their communities (Grades 7-12);
    Two times more likely to be civically active (Grades 8-12);
    Two times more likely to make healthier choices (Grade 7);
    Two times more likely to participate in Science, Engineering and Computer Technology programs during out-of-school time (Grades 10 – 12); and
    4-H girls are two times more likely (Grade 10) and nearly three times more likely (Grade 12) to take part in science programs compared to girls in other out-of-school time activities.

    September 17, 2014 at 9:10 am |
  7. Lily Berghorn

    This is definatley NOT what 4-H is about im a member and I know first hand EVERYONE gets attached to their animals so no, we aren't desensitized. And also, 4h animals are treated 100000x better than the animals used for meat at the grocery store. So think before you judge the agricultural business because we are the ones feeding YOU.

    September 16, 2014 at 6:00 pm |
  8. BJ

    CNN why do you fail to put the findings of the Tuff survey out for people to read? Are you afraid that the fact the 4-H youth are more community mind is disturbing? Or does the fact that there is less high school dropout by those involved in 4-H and less teen pregnancy bother you? Perhaps the fact that there is a greater return on the dollar in the 4-H program over Boys Scouts, Girls Scouts, Boys & Girls Club, etc. is disturbing.

    News reporting has become a very sad situation when you have to attack a program that teaches life skills and community focus.

    September 16, 2014 at 1:21 pm |
  9. Hannah

    I have for one have been in or around 4-H for my whole life. I believe in God. I believe that God created everyone and everything for a specific reason. Some roles that things play may be harsh at times, like the killing of animals on a daily basis. Let me tell you one thing, most Americans eat meat. If they find killing animals so harsh then why aren't we herbivores, or why is hunting legal. It's the way of life. It's how the world goes round. 4-H is probably the best thing that has happened to me. I learned responsibility, ownership, how to care, and how to take on the real life struggles. It is stated above that 4-H'ers do not care for there animals nor do they mourn the loss of the animals. These animals are not just animals they are friends and pets to my fellow 4-H'ers. You have to see them every day and they come to know who you are and they fall in love with you just like you fall in love with them. As time goes on you get attached. You worked so hard to get these animals to where they are. You go and show them because you are proud of what you raised. You want to feel accomplished by someone telling you that you did a good job raising an animal. Then sale day is the hardest day of fair. Similarly, funerals are the hardest things in life. But life goes on though. Not every one can live forever. Therefore I come to the conclusion that 4-H has nothing bad about it's main point. It's about using the things God gave you. Head, heart, hands, and health-to help your community, your country, and your world.

    September 16, 2014 at 12:15 am |
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