Commentary: Playing chicken with pork

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Rick Berman Rick Berman There’s a lot of concern among pork producers about what’s going on with retailers and restaurants. A handful, including brands like McDonald’s, have made demands that their suppliers have a supply chain free of gestation stalls in the next decade.

Demand generally drives supply, but here’s a situation in which the vast majority of supply producers don’t have an interest in responding. Supply, in other words, is at odds with demand.

Essentially, producers and retailers are playing chicken. So who will flinch?

If the pork industry stands together, it will prevail. There are several reasons.

First, consumers don’t care about the gestation stall issue. Ask a man walking down the street what a gestation stall is and he will look like you just asked him something in Russian. That’s one reason we have been using the term “maternity pen” instead of gestation stall—it’s easier for people to comprehend.

New polling puts a number on how little support HSUS has on the sow housing issue. When told that animal rights activists claim the stalls are cruel because they are small and don't allow pigs to socialize in groups, a majority (67%) of the public responded by either supporting the individual maternity pens (IMP) or didn't care enough to have a position.

More importantly, when informed that veterinarians support the current IMP housing practice and that it protects pregnant sows from injuries, that number jumped to 86 percent in favor of maternity pens.

There aren’t many issues on which you can garner 86 percent support from the public. Producers are on solid ground and need to invest in vehicles to get the message out to the public.

Second, most producers don’t want to change. The three major pork suppliers (packers) who have pledged to change production practices affect less than 20 percent of domestic sow production (and that only applies to their company-owned facilities). The vast majority of the remaining 80% of the U.S. swine industry, very few of which are large or publicly traded, has no plans to stop using standard sow housing based on the expert advice of veterinarians and animal welfare experts.

Third, restaurants and retailers are making weak commitments to simply get HSUS off their back. Here are some phrases lifted from these companies’ press releases: "will endeavor," "will strive," "will develop a timeline," to change supply guidelines. Those aren’t exactly bold, visionary statements. These companies may seem to be siding with HSUS—according to HSUS’s press release on its own website--but in reality they are open to a third way.

Producers can win on the sow issue, but they can’t be passive or let HSUS define them. The “family farmer versus factory farmer” narrative of HSUS is false. So is the idea that doing things the way they were done 40 years ago is somehow more “humane.”

There are three central points for a producer public information campaign: Producers know more than a D.C. propaganda outfit; veterinarians support producers on the issue; and HSUS is backward-looking while producers are forward-looking. Producers are always looking to improve, whether it’s with genetics, veterinary science, or handling procedures. What they don't need is the advice of a radical vegan outfit telling them how to run their farms. 

Rick Berman is the Executive Director of the Center for Consumer Freedom, a nonprofit coalition supported by restaurants, food companies and consumers to promote personal responsibility and protect consumer choices. Visit HumaneWatch.org to learn more.


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LetsPlayChicken    
IL  |  March, 01, 2013 at 09:58 AM

Ok, I'm 60 years old, You want me to spend 1.25 million dollars on my 500 acre farm to move away from gestation crates to open pens housing. 15 years ago I had open pen housing and moved away because of downer sows. All the fighting was killing my profits. We went from 8.2 pigs weaned per sow to 9.8 pigs per sow using gestation crated. Why ? No fighting. Cull sows dropped by 90% No I will not move back to open pen housing. What's going to happen next is the HSUS is going to show all the lame sows in open pen housing being dragged out the building and shot & left to die. I wish I had a video of that time frame in my life to show the difference. The show the losses of open pen housing $$$$ Sorry I can not go back, You'll have to lock me up before I will raise them that way. We were dragging 2 sows out each week for a 400 sow operation. Now we run 600 and have less than 2 sows a month. (they are in better condition) Good Bye McDonald, You want cheap meat at the expense of the farmers health.

Ant    
NJ  |  March, 20, 2013 at 04:59 PM

If you have a 500 acre farm, you can afford the 1.25 million dollars. 500 acres is a ridiculous amount of space, and you can afford it. Stop fighting this. How would you like to live in a box your whole life, just so that you don't have any conflict with any other human?

Dennis    
March, 01, 2013 at 11:41 AM

A great article. How, however, do we get the message across to those firm, such as MacDonalds and others and the consuming public that the Pork Industry has made great strides in caring for their animals and therefore, producing more and healthier product. Even though we are in a low [to no] profit business, we`ll be out of business if we don`t attempt to educate. We need to find the money to tell our side of the business.

    
March, 03, 2013 at 08:49 AM

how about a picture of a ready to farrow sows vulva that has been mutilated by her friend and pen mate?

maxine    
SD  |  March, 03, 2013 at 05:51 PM

Having no 'skin in this game' other than concern that anti-meat activists masquerading as wanting "humane" treatment of animals, and being a consumer, it seems to me we should be asking why the change TO crates came about? It surely cost producers some impressively large dollar investments. Now, it is easy to see this demand for radical changes in housing as being little more than a ploy to drain operating capital and family living funds from an industry to which the activists wish to put an end. The reasonable and humane way to determine protocols for care of food animals obviously is to use animal science as the basis for best practices and housing.....if one is NOT interested in ending food animal production.

K    
March, 04, 2013 at 12:26 PM

Can you point me to the reference for the new consumer polling numbers? I'd like to read the study. Thanks!

jewel    
March, 20, 2013 at 06:45 PM

You won't get a response. Berman purposely neglects to mention he paid for the study and designed the questions.

jack    
ohio  |  March, 25, 2013 at 10:21 PM

How do you know what he can afford? That is the worst argument I have ever heard.

Jim    
PA  |  March, 28, 2013 at 10:00 AM

I agree. If you cannot treat these creatures humanely, you shouldn't be doing it. These are sentient creatures and have the intelligence of a 3-yr old child. Shame on this industry.

Maggie    
U.S.A.  |  May, 11, 2013 at 07:14 PM

I would like to see Mr. Berman stuck in a gestational stall (oops, maternity pen) for several months. If you don't want pigs to molest each other in open pens, improve their physical condition that reflects on their mental condition. Such 'experts' as Mr. Berman don't know what they are talking about but they can hear the sound of money from the megapork producers who pay them!


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