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4-H and Peta’s ideas about animal agriculture

When I was 6 years old, I entered 4-H with my first project – a bunny named Patches, who was irresistible with her cute twitching nose, tickling whiskers and soft fur.

Patches was the first animal for whom I was solely responsible, and I took the responsibility so seriously that I considered the bunny my best friend.


When I finished the 4-H youth development program at the age of 19, I had completed 20 different projects. It turns out that Patches was the initial spark that would fuel my interest in animal science as a career.

It’s not surprising, then, that I’m among the millions of people nationwide who appreciate the values, knowledge and skills that 4-H promotes among its members.

This youth organization, supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, guides kids five to 19 to independently learn about topics of interest. Project categories include livestock, crops, healthy living, sciences, engineering, citizenship, leadership, and technology.

4-H helps instill an important work ethic, and values in its young members. These are summarized in the 4-H pledge: “I pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service, and my health to better living — for my club, my community, my country, and my world.”

The 4-H logo is a four-leaf clover, and each leaf represents an “H” word from the pledge – head, heart, hands, health – to remind 4-H members about the proper way to complete projects and daily activities.

Ultimately, these four “H” words are a reminder about how to live our lives–thoughtfully, compassionately and mindful of our broad responsibilities as citizens. I’m sure we’d all agree that these ideals are relevant, and they are definitely meaningful people in the 4-H community.

So you can understand why I felt sick to my stomach when I recently visited the Colorado State Fair in Pueblo. No, a fried Twinkie was not to blame.

I saw a People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals display that turned the 4-H motto on its head and bastardized the 4-H ideals to suit the organization’s radical agenda.

PETA’s display suggested that the four “H” words were: “hell for animals; heart attack inducing; hazardous to the environment; and hypocritical to care about some animals and not others.”


To be clear, I definitely think diversity of ideas and freedom of speech are what make America beautiful.

I also understand that some people believe in using animals for food, and some do not.

Vegans and vegetarians have moral reasons for opposing animal agriculture, and I think living true to your beliefs is noble.

Yet I also know there are right ways and wrong ways to go about animal agriculture. It’s important to understand that 4-H advocates the proper way to raise food animals for people who believe that livestock provide a useful and healthy source of protein for people around the world.

If you’re on the fence with this issue, I’ll explain. For starters, 4-H teaches humane guidelines for animal agriculture; this is summarized with the four “H” words.

Head: Young livestock producers learn to think about what they’re doing, are expected to gain contemporary science-based knowledge, and to manage their food animals using USDA guidelines.

Heart: 4-Hers with livestock projects learn to care for their animals and treat them humanely. It’s telling that Temple Grandin, Colorado State University’s renowned expert in animal welfare, supports 4-H programs.

Hands: Through daily work, 4-Hers provide animals with proper and humane care.

Health: 4-Hers must keep detailed project records to prove that they are fulfilling project requirements and keeping their animals healthy.

Animal agriculture has a significant role in a world that will require agriculture to feed over 9 billion people in the next 40 years.

Our main goal is to humanely, professionally, responsibly and efficiently raise food animals to provide the world with important protein source.

Animal agriculture is vital as a food source because livestock convert forage that cannot be used by humans into high-quality protein for human consumption.

Animal agriculture is a key part of the solution to feeding the world.

At CSU animal agriculture is taught ethically. In fact, many of us learn from Dr. Grandin, a pioneering expert in animal agriculture who is probably our university’s most famous professor.

She has written the following to explain animal welfare: “People feed, shelter, and breed cattle and hogs, and in return the animals provide food and clothing. We must never abuse them, because that would break an ancient contract. We owe it to animals to give them decent living conditions and a painless death.”

This concept is fundamental to 4-H teachings, and demonstrates why those of us in
animal agriculture respect the “H” words and the values they reflect.

Malinda DeBell is a sophomore animal science major. Her column appears every other Tuesday in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to

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  • S

    Solomente Del ValleMar 14, 2017 at 6:05 pm

    It appears that the children treat the “Food source” ethically & with respect
    My problem with that is that ranch hands and/or owners who look the other way when the animals are kicked, electicuted, hit, picked up roughly, keep the some animals stay pregnant but not for their offspring, (mainly male) are starved,& I hate to think what othet abuses farm animals are subject to.
    So, if animals have been raised with love & respect that is thrown out that barn door & killed savagely. What a rude awakening for that living creature!!
    Are the children allowed to see how the breathing creature that they have raised being tortured, & finally taken out of their misery brutally.

  • M

    MeganDec 15, 2015 at 10:16 pm

    Let me first start off by saying that I was a 4-H member for 13 years and have worked as an employee of my state extension office and for national 4-H so I am a huge fan of 4-H and what it offers for young people. I raised hogs and dairy in addition to a slew of other projects. That being said, where I am from, though many youth livestock exhibitors treat their animals well- a vast majority in fact – there are still a handful that use their animal to get champion ribbons and high market prices, much to the animal’s demise. And as a young person this shocked me and I can say that I wrote a letter or two to my 4-H market committee to ponder the reasons for such behavior. I’ve seen animals have heart attacks in showing barns from all the drugs and showing “tricks” their on and I do have to concur that PETA does make a point in that 4-H can induce “hell for the animals”. I’m under no illusions that the meat industry treats its animals with respect, so I can get behind 4-Hers raising animals in great living quarters where they get to see the light of day and walk in grass and soil; however, even in 4-H this is all too often not the case. But 4-H isn’t the problem, the problem is what we accept as a society. And as long as we accept the horrible conditions for animals that the meat industry is dominated by we cannot escape the atrocities that those of us who consume meat induce.