We all like to hear what our peers have to say about business philosophies, news topics and other strategic issues.

Last month I shared some of my thoughts on Smithfield Foods’ and Maple Leaf Foods’ decision to move gestation sows out of stalls and into groups. This month I want to share some of your peers’ thoughts.

Pork has created a research venue called Pork Perspective. The panel involves pork producers and industry personnel from across the nation who voluntarily and anonymously share their thoughts on a variety of industry topics via electronic surveys. (For information on how you can try your hand at the panel, go to www.porkmag.com and click on the red “Pork Perspective” box in the left-hand column.)

So, I drew up four questions related to the evolving gestation-sow-housing issue and here’s what some of you had to say. 

 

 

As you can see, participants could check more than one comment. They also could select “other,” which 9 percent did, and then offered personal viewpoints. Some responses praised the decision as “a step in the right direction.” “…if we don’t do it ourselves, the activists will do it for us through legislation.” “Crates have been a black eye on the industry; they sold a bunch of steel.”

Some saw it as a long-term economic move as well as a marketing one: “…as Smithfield’s gestation crates age and need to be replaced, they will put in less-expensive group housing.”

 

No surprise, this question generated the largest number of personal comments. Many respondents expect a compromise system to surface. The most popular one cited involved placing female animals into stalls for 30 to 45 days post-weaning, then moving them into a group system to finish out the gestation period. This allows the sows or gilts to be bred and monitored individually and gives the embryos a chance to settle.

The other most common responses referred to issues like: “The standard of care is critical regardless of the housing system.” “Simply moving to pens doesn’t improve animal welfare; at best, it’s a tradeoff.”

Folks want more research. “…the stall system needs improvement. Alternatives must be developed and studied.”

 

“Other” received a 12 percent response, some of whom thought Smithfield’s action was a one-customer issue. However, comments included “if mainstream grocers demand the elimination of stalls, it will happen or we will lose the market.”

Others believe that consumers don’t care how their food is raised -- until they read something on the label that raises questions. 

In the end, most comments reflected a need for the industry to take “a proactive approach and educate consumers on the advantages of crate gestation…” While that might sound wise, consumers’ interest level and attention span won’t give you much of an audience to get your point across.

Finally, asked whether they are concerned that more livestock-housing restrictions will come out of Congress: 50 percent said yes; 26 percent are more concerned about  actions at the state level; 15 percent believe Congress will leave it up to producers and the industry; and 7 percent said it will enter the 2007 Farm Bill discussions.

So, that’s what your peers said, but no question, the conversation will continue.