It has been a tough year for the pork industry, and it’s not even done yet. Now, I don’t mean it’s been tough in just the economic sense; that would be a painful understatement.
Adding to the woes this year were strong attacks from animal and food activists, many of which I’ve talked about on this page. The HBO “documentary”; the mainstream movie Food, Inc.; activists’ efforts to replicate production restrictions in Ohio and Michigan; anti-antibiotic legislation in Washington, D.C.; the Baltimore school district’s move to pull meat from its menus on Monday (see page 13) are all pieces that add to what was already destined to be one unimaginably tough year.
Of course, let us not forget the king of this year’s challenges — the Novel H1N1 2009 influenza virus. Thankfully, much of the erroneous “swine flu” connection has died down — except for NBC News’ almost dogmatic refusal to call it H1N1.
I’ve been critical of agriculture’s lack of depth and sincerity in coordinating efforts toward silencing its critics and painting a clearer picture for the public. So I need to be equally fair in doling out some kudos when seeing positive efforts and results. I’m not talking about pork or swine industry groups here; there’s no question that they’ve worked tirelessly on a never-ending list of issues this year.
I’ll start by pointing to the American Meat Institute, which has been a tremendous fact-checker on the meat industry’s behalf. AMI is a packer/processor association, but its personnel frequently speak out more broadly on meat’s behalf.
This summer AMI’s Janet Riley set the record straight on ABC’s Nightline regarding Food, Inc.’s accusations. Last month, she challenged Baltimore’s logic behind Meatless Mondays, and AMI was well presented on a CNN Larry King Live broadcast discussing the meat industry and food safety concerns. (You can read the transcript at porkmag.com/news.)
On the political side, AMI chairman Rod Brenneman testified on the pork industry’s behalf to the House Agriculture Subcommittee about the doubling of feed prices due to government policies that promote corn for ethanol. The knowledge, professionalism and composure that AMI presents in these discussions serve you and the entire meat sector well.
The Humane Society of the United States zeroed in on Ohio and Michigan, planning to replicate animal-housing ballot initiatives that it passed successfully in Florida, Arizona and California.
According to a study by Glynn Tonsor, agricultural economist at Michigan State University, the first voice at the table to suggest legislation or a change often commandeers it, and there is a substantial cost to not being at the table. Tonsor also found that there’s opportunity for animal agriculture to affect the legislation and the timetable regarding animal-housing changes. Those lessons were not lost on the animal agriculture groups in Ohio and Michigan.
Animal agriculture forces in those states moved to establish their own animal-housing efforts. Michigan groups took action in the form of drawing up and getting legislation through the state house. (See page 14.) Ohio developed and placed its own plan — Issue 2 — on the Nov. 3 ballot, which would create an animal-care board with varied and expert representation. I’m writing this before voting day, and it’s always risky to predict ballot outcomes, but the organization and support exhibited throughout Ohio from agricultural, public and political sectors have been positive and encouraging.
Many of the seeds against agriculture and the food system are planted on college campuses, and today social media helps spread those messages further and deeper. Now, the Animal Agriculture Alliance and the American National CattleWomen have organized a network for college ag students called “College Aggies Online.” The program is designed to motivate agriculture-related students across the nation to become agriculture’s advocates. The point is for students to share their stories and discuss issues facing the food and agriculture sectors. It will incorporate social media such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. Each student will receive an account to customize a home-page and upload information, blog and post photos or videos. Contact the Alliance (e-mail email@example.com) to learn more or to have your student sign up.
Since 2007, the Center for Food Integrity has worked to “build consumer trust and confidence in the contemporary food system.” This year CFI rolled out FoodFacts.org, which includes the Food Integrity Index and a Q&A section, where university specialists provide information related to common food system issues and misconceptions.
Last month, CFI and the National Council of Chain Restaurants brought together representatives from restaurants, agriculture, state ag departments, food processors, allied industry and state legislators at a symposium to discuss the current state of affairs. Among the focus is the need to build consumers’ trust in the food sector’s animal care, nutrition, food safety and sustainability efforts. CFI does an annual consumer perception survey, and according to this year’s, consumers rate information from the Humane Society of the United States as more accurate than scientists, producer groups and state/federal government sources.
So while the challenges won’t die away, animal agriculture is increasingly more savvy, prepared and organized.
As Thanksgiving approaches, this may be a tough year to find things to be thankful for — certainly family, friends, committed employees and health top the list.
But you also can be thankful for the number and variety of truly tremendous people who are in your corner fighting the good fight on your behalf.