Farmers are getting frustrated by a fickle food-buying public and the accompanying demands by food manufacturers, restaurants and grocery store.
It is leaving farmers caught in the middle, according to“Farmers Feel Thrown Under the Bus as Big Food Changes,” a story on the public radio program Marketplace.From Chipotle to Subway, Tyson Foods to Whole Foods, food retailers and American consumers are demanding everything from antibiotic-free meats to gluten-free baked goods, not to mention GMO labeling and more transparent production practices.
According to the story, “some farmers are chafing at the extent to which big food companies and retailers are catering to consumer demands, which they sometimes view as faddish. ‘Many of them can change their opinion five times in one conversation, and I don't change my cropping practice five times in one year,’ said David Schemm, a wheat farmer in Kansas and an officer with the National Association of Wheat Growers.
Such constantly changing requests also ignore the reality of production agriculture and the variety of customers many farmers serve.
It makes for an impossible situation, according to Randy Spronk, a hog producer in Minnesota and past president of the National Pork Producers Council who was interviewed for the story.
Spronk said it's not just that farmers feel left out of the conversation; they're also getting confusing signals about what they're supposed to do differently.
"Retailer A wants a sow in a pen," he said. "Retailer B wants one antibiotic-free. Retailer C wants the sow to be outside. Which one do I listen to? I only got one pig."
Spronk actually has nearly 100,000 pigs. When he says he has only one, he means he raises them only one way.
He then markets them to several different meat packers, which in turn sell parts like the ham, the loin or the bacon to several domestic and international food service and retail end markets.
If one food retailer wants bacon from pigs that have never touched feed with genetically modified ingredients, the whole pig has to be raised that way, even if the other end markets don't care about GMOs.
"I can't just do it to their particular cut," Spronk said, "I need to do it to the entire pig. So then it becomes, the rest of the pig-- who's going to pay for the higher cost?"