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rswfarms
Senior Contributor

Another View: Pork growers: Don't ignore customers/The PETA People are at it again

A letter to the editor of the main Iowa paper. Any hog guys are free to give there opinion. I am a 50% owner in an Iowa Hog Operation, and the manure is great for my corn and lowers the COP (Cost of Production), but I am not involved in the day to day activities, just an investor that has 100% of the manure rights, along with a share of the profits, plus I put up the 10 acres of land it is located on. Just the manure rights has made it a good investment, saves me around $75,000/year which is nice. Article is below:

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Another View: Pork growers: Don't ignore customers

 

Restaurants will begin eliminating the product from menus if changes aren't made

 

I recently read a piece on Pork Network by Rick Berman, executive director of the Center for Consumer Freedom, an organization that, despite its name, represents large corporations’ interests far more than it does consumers’ interests.

Berman claimed that the restaurant and food industry isn’t serious about reaching our gestation crate-free commitments, that consumers don’t really care about this vile practice, and that somehow, if pork producers ignore the policies of their major buyers, everything will be OK.

What strange advice, to ignore what the customer wants. I think it’s misguided and potentially disastrous, and those farmers who heed Berman will likely lose substantial business in the near future.

So I sent the Pork Network a response (a version of this column), hoping to reach those producers and tell them that an alternate view exists to Berman’s. But after quizzing me about how we know what consumers want, what science I was referring to, and whether the Humane Society of the United States had put me up to writing the letter, the editor declined to publish it.

Well, at least they are consistent. Apparently they really do think pork producers should ignore their customers — even those that buy 3 million pounds of pork per year.

As CEO of Bon Appétit Management Co., a food service company, I have the responsibility to ensure that our restaurants in 32 states provide high-quality food that also represents the values of our guests.

In 2012, Bon Appétit announced our latest animal welfare policy, creating higher standards for those of our suppliers who raise farm animals. A key component to this commitment is to eliminate all pork that comes from operations confining their sows inside gestation crates by 2015.

This decision came with a deep understanding of consumer sentiment regarding animal confinement.

I served for two years on the Pew Commission for Industrial Farm Animal Production, along with a former U.S. Department of Agriculture secretary, former dean of the University of Tennessee Veterinary School, ranchers, bioethicists and other esteemed leaders in food production issues.

The commission unanimously recommended that gestation crates be phased out in favor of group housing. Our dozens of Farm to Fork hog farmers proved to us that group housing is both practical and a more humane alternative. As pork industry expert Dr. Temple Grandin said, “We’ve got to treat animals right, and gestation stalls have got to go.”

Our decision was echoed by dozens of other major corporations. The largest restaurant chains have enacted similar policies, as have many of the largest grocers and our other colleagues in food service.

I’ve worked in the food business for decades, and it’s hard to think of an issue that our industry has so cohesively addressed as swiftly and decisively as gestation crates. As an industry, we’re providing our suppliers with phase-out periods to make the transition to group housing sustainable and see it accomplished in ways that fit within their business models.

We understand that it’s the suppliers who will be making the change and we’re appreciative of their innovation to meet the growing market demands.

However, if the pork industry somehow gets hoodwinked into thinking we’re not serious about our commitment to eliminate gestation crates and fails to act, let me be clear: Our company will begin eliminating pork from our menu. This issue is that important.

Do I look forward to telling our customers that bacon and ham are off the menu? No, but I’m willing to explain it’s because the pork industry insisted on confining mother pigs in cages where they cannot turn around for their entire lives.

Berman can claim all he wants that the “man on the street” doesn’t care about gestation stalls. Show a picture of sows confined in this manner to college students and find out (as I have) just how much they care.

As for the nearly 50 other major food companies that have enacted similar policies: Their commitments were made to their shareholders, boards of directors, customers and the media.

These decisions are never made lightly in our industry, and anyone who claims otherwise simply doesn’t understand the food business — or worse, is deliberately trying to deceive someone into paying his PR firm more money.

Basically, it comes down to this: Producers who fail to move away from gestation crates will lose not only our business, but most likely many other customers’ business as well. And trust will be permanently eroded. I care too much about farmers to sit idly by and watch a wolf in pig’s clothing divide them from their customers, to the detriment of virtually everyone — animals, farmers and the public alike.

 

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4 Replies
huskerfool
Contributor

Re: Another View: Pork growers: Don't ignore customers/The PETA People are at it again

the the manure becomes more of a profit senter than the animals, regardless of species, the producers and the stock they care for are screwed, simply put.

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Kay/NC
Honored Advisor

Re: Another View: Pork growers: Don't ignore customers/The PETA People are at it again

Our integrator, which is the production side of Smithfield Packing, has been converting farms to pen gestation as fast as economics will allow. I think they took a lead position on this point in our industry, and as a person who has raised hogs independently before going into contract growing, I feel it is an appropriate modification in pork production.
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smokeyjay
Advisor

Re: Another View: Pork growers: Don't ignore customers/The PETA People are at it again

If the CEO's views carry the day, your pork chops just got more expensive to raise, not to mention higher priced in the marketplace.

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belarus
Senior Contributor

Re: Another View: Pork growers: Don't ignore customers/The PETA People are at it again

I'm always amazed how the hog industry embraces pay lean when the export markets want nothing to do with the resulting pork. Talk about standing on principle at the cost of an industry.
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