Animal rights groups have changed their tactics in recent years. Rather than run inflammatory ads in newspapers, or throw pies at pork queens, they’re determined to build business-to-business relationships with food companies. Why? So they can influence how animals are raised with companies that buy large quantities of pork, like McDonald’s, Burger King and most recently, Marriott.

Unfortunately, representatives of these groups have stretched the truth in terms of the number of operations that use group housing for gestating sows. Neil Dierks, Chief Executive Officer of the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) says animal rights groups have been very successful in “exploiting the gap of knowledge.”

Dierks spoke at the Iowa Master Pork Producers breakfast last week in Des Moines, Iowa, during the 2013 Iowa Pork Congress. As CEO, he is responsible for the overall implementation of all NPPC programs, with emphasis on reasonable legislation, producer profitability and protection of producers’ livelihoods.

According to Dierks, food companies are being told that more than 25% of gestating sows are already housed in groups, while in reality the number is closer to 6%. As a result, companies are going to have difficulty acquiring the animals they need to meet the 2018 timeline of having all animals sourced from operations that have group housing. Even a best-case scenario puts 15% of production in group housing by 2018, says Dierks.

Even more surprising is that many of these food companies haven’t discussed the group-housing decision with their suppliers. At the present time, suppliers have no way to segregate animals based on how they were housed during processing, which means there is no verification process. In addition, the cost to achieve this goal will be significant.

Dierks asks, “At what cost” will these mandates be implemented? He believes that not only will the industry – and consumers – ultimately have to pay, but the industry will have an increased carbon footprint and it may be more difficult for small producers to change production practices than larger entities.

Public issues related to pork production are becoming increasingly important. Consumers want to know where their food comes from, how it’s produced and how it’s handled at every point along the food chain. It’s the industry’s responsibility to make sure all parties in the process, including the end user, know and understand best management practices.

Tell us what you think: How can industry leaders take a more proactive role in helping consumers and food companies understand how and why we raise animals the way we do? Let’s consider some creative alternatives.