From Bob Evans Farms: One more reason to like Bob Evans

A press release from Bob Evans Farms, Inc., stated, “Bob Evans Farms, Inc. is committed to the responsible care of animals that are raised to provide food products for our customers.”

It went on to talk about the expectations of consumers on food quality, food safety and the well-being of animals and the recognition that challenges exist with respect to sow housing.

Bob Evans Farms, Inc. wants valid verification and is using academic research and scientific research to help it reach a reasonable decision based on facts, not rhetoric. The release states, “Our key learning is this – the single-most critical factor in ensuring animal well-being is not the housing system itself, but rather the animal husbandry practiced by those who care for the sows. Although there is no perfect housing system available, we will remain focused on quality animal care from trained, qualified caretakers and a safe on-farm working environment.”

It’s refreshing to see a food company consider the facts and take in as much information as possible from a variety of sources before stating a position. Many other food companies simply listened to one noisy faction without looking at the validity of their decisions or the accompanying ramifications to farmers.

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From Paul Meers: This is what I think I know

New blog contributor Paul Meers expresses his opinion on a number of topics in his first post:

The Sequester
I understand that the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is under contract but has anyone ever heard of “renegotiate”? Without the present political scare tactics, the FSIS can manage the cutback with reduced floor time over the remainder of the fiscal year. Hog harvest could be discontinued on Friday and Saturday. Anything over 40 hours in the remaining week would be picked up by the harvesting company if they so chose. Line speed and harvest quantity has been and will always be driven by demand and margin, and our industry can live with a shortened harvest week. A full blown furlough will back hogs up for three to six months.

Mandatory Country-of-Origin Labeling (MCOOL)
The new regulations appear to make things more difficult, rather than easier or streamlined, for our trading partners and harvesting companies.. In my opinion, weaned pigs and calves fed 100 percent in the United States should have no COOL stipulations.

Be careful what you wish for! The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) has done a wonderful job with exporting our products. In fact, the meat from one in four hogs harvested is now shipped abroad. Problem is, our industry is used for political gain by our importing customers. Any disruption puts product back on the domestic market, which has stagnant demand.

Harvest Weights
Producers should target 260 pounds as a slaughter weight, with no hogs over 270 pounds! Every five-pound decrease in harvest weight is equal to 42,000 less hogs PER WEEK

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From Chef Jim Sturm: Quest for my specialty

Chef Jim Sturm is a new contributor to PorkNetwork. Here are excerpts from his first blogpost:

I have been passionate about food my entire life, but it wasn’t until eight years ago that I decided to pursue it as a career and become a chef.  As a chef, the number one question I get asked is “What’s your specialty?”  It’s always been a difficult question for me to answer because I enjoy so many different cuisines. I assume that they want me to name a single dish that is my specialty.  I’ve never been able to choose just one.  Instead, I tell people that I specialize in making everything from scratch. 

There is a vast array of information available about all kinds of food these days.  The hard part is knowing what sources to trust.  (Hint: Grandma’s are usually the best)  Some of my fondest food memories are of meals I had with my grandparents while spending the summer with them on their small farm as a child.  The important thing is not to be afraid to try new things.  The more you experiment, the more you learn, and the better you get at analyzing a recipe before you’ve even made it.

It is my intention to document this process in my blog.  I encourage everyone who is interested in food to join me in this exploration.  Share your ideas with me and together we just might end up finding that one dish I can proudly call my specialty.

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Commentary: Winning the future on maternity pens

Rick Berman, Executive Director of the Center for Consumer Freedom, is a forthright, outspoken advocate for livestock producers and he supports their ability to choose best-management practices that fit their operations. The Center for Consumer Freedom is a nonprofit coalition supported by restaurants, food companies and consumers to promote personal responsibility and protect consumer choices. Highlights from one of his commentaries follows:

Is asking pork producers to stand tall against HSUS controversial? Apparently it is, judging from the stir around my previous column. If you missed it, I encouraged producers to not flinch in the game of "chicken" with animal rights activists who have conned some retailers into making weak mealy-mouthed pledges against maternity pens (gestation stalls).

Here’s the most pertinent question currently unanswered: Should retailers be afraid of backlash from HSUS if they reverse their kinda-sorta quasi-pledges? No, and the reason is because of the timeline. The deadlines to switch supply guidelines are several years or nearly a decade away. That's an eternity in business sourcing decisions. In the meantime, several things will change the playing field:

  • HSUS will suffer brand diminishment similar to PETA. The PETA wackos actually had a 72 percent favorable rating in public opinion polls as recently as 2004. Within five or six years that rating was down to 49 percent. HSUS has similar weak points – a lack of support for pet shelters and unflattering evaluations from charity watchdogs, for instance.
  • A poll we recently commissioned found that when told of the facts that farmers and veterinarians widely support maternity pens, the public sides with them by a margin of 62-13, with an additional 24 percent of respondents not caring. The public trusts farmers and veterinarians over animal rights activists when it comes to farm animal welfare by a margin of 76-10.
  • A more organized agriculture community will rise. HSUS lost in its election year activity in 2012, including its failure to pass a simple cat, dog and horse initiative. HSUS's political brand will become more toxic over time.
  • European financial losses from HSUS-type demands are becoming more apparent and add to the economic arguments against legislation.

But we still have to provide facts. Beating HSUS on the facts vs. its phony narrative will require a willingness to fight. We are already seeing dividends from grassroots activism and campaigns such as our project. Most of all, it will require commitment to staying on offense and being proactive.

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