Consumers need to understand production practices, and
the industry needs to be open to improvements.
Consumers need to understand production practices, and the industry needs to be open to improvements.

One of the worst things that can happen to a retail company is damage to its brand: They don’t want to be singled out in any way. Activist groups have effectively used this fear to further their cause and as a result, companies will do almost anything to keep from being the focus of a retaliatory campaign. After the fact, they realize they’ve painted themselves into a corner.

Every time another food company takes a position against the use of gestation stalls, someone from HSUS sends PorkNetwork a gleeful email proclaiming the news. Close to 50 companies have taken a position or made an announcement about gestation stalls, including McDonald’s.

There are several thousand companies that haven’t, however. Industry leaders are actively meeting with many of them to make sure they fully understand and appreciate what their decisions mean to the industry in general and producers in particular. Some companies have pigeon-holed themselves by establishing an exact date, but many have said they’ll simply work with their suppliers to figure it out over a time period. There are a lot of “what-ifs” that need to be pointed out to the restaurant and food-service industries.

 “In many instances, particularly in food service, companies are not sourcing from one packer supplier and selling directly to consumers,” says Jarrod Sutton, assistant vice president for channel marketing at the National Pork Board. “They’re buying off the commodity market and selling in a wide distribution area. They’ll have to dig into this issue, learn why we do what we do and realize everything is supported by science,” he says.

Sutton says it’s imperative that companies to whom the pork industry sells products have a good understanding and appreciation for pork production practices and methods. This is important not only for product availability (though they’ve never had a shortage of product) but also from a business perspective.

“The costs associated with their decisions may have unintended consequences,” says Sutton. “It’s imperative that before even considering changes or digging into issues further that they fully understand those costs and consequences.”

While it’s clearly an arduous task, we’re making progress, believes Sutton. “We’re sharing information, strengthening our relationships and building partnerships with key individuals within these companies,” he says. “It will be interesting to see how things start to shake out in the next couple of years as some of those dates draw a little closer.”

See the Q&A with Jarrod Sutton.