Editor’s Note: Steve Weiss is President of Value Added Science and Technologies, and works closely with swine producer leadership in the U.S. and Canadian swine industries. He wrote the following letter in response to recent correspondence from Tyson Foods. It is an important call-to-action for the industry.
Tyson Foods recently sent a letter to pork producers who sell or raise hogs for Tyson, which sets forth Tyson's views on certain production practices. In my countless conversations with producers (with both large and small operations) and other industry players in the past week, it is clear that the letter has understandably caused great concern within the pork industry. It represents a departure from certain of Tyson’s previously stated positions and, although it doesn’t make many specific demands on producers – it attempts to establish future expectations for certain animal-care practices, expectations that are somewhat nebulous and do not acknowledge existing veterinarian-approved practices. The letter appears instead to simply be an attempt to appease animal rights activists.
Other than perhaps as an attempt to protect its brand from continued activist attack, it is unclear why Tyson would want to be perceived as caving in to the blackmail efforts of organizations - HSUS and its vegan allies - whose stated goal is to eliminate the meat industry in the United States, including Tyson. While we might try to understand the letter as an attempt to lessen activist pressure and support Tyson's sales department, history has shown that appeasement of animal rights activists is not realistic, or even possible. Fortunately, the letter has only two firm requirements, and then only for the relatively small number of producers who produce piglets for Tyson under contract. Unfortunately, a decision to address a short-term threat can have much larger negative long-term implications. We are hopeful that, in this case, given the elements of Tyson’s communication and the resolve of the industry, the letter will have no long-term adverse effect.
First, here is what each point of the Tyson letter actually says:
Sow Housing. Tyson is endorsing—but not requiring—changes to future sow housing. There is no announced intention to change sourcing relationships with independent producers if current housing formats using individual maternity pens (IMPs) continue to be used even for new housing. Tyson is asking that sows be allowed to stand up, lie down, turn around, and stretch their legs. Current standard individual maternity pen housing provides three of these four prerequisites already, and there is nothing – except for animal rights activists’ attempts at anthropomorphism (ascribing human thoughts/desires on animals) – that supports the contention that the fourth would improve animal welfare. Tyson’s flexibility is important, since it allows for input from producers and veterinarians, and IMPs are veterinarian-approved. There continues to be overwhelming evidence from veterinarians and producers that both open pens and IMPs can serve the needs of pregnant sows. Tyson appears to recognize and appreciate this fact, despite the position of HSUS and other animal rights groups.