Proud enough to hide January 8, 2010Posted by Angelique in Animal welfare.
Tags: agriculture, animal ag, animal rights, Animal welfare, Food ethics
Pride gets a lot of play in the conventional meat industry. Safe Food Inc., a meat industry alliance formed to combat the ugly picture of meat production presented in the movie Food, Inc., says “We are proud of the way we care for our animals, our employees and the environment. We are also proud of the nutrition, safety and good taste that our products offer.” According to pork.org, the voice of the National Pork Board, “America’s pork producers are proud to be part of the ‘green generation’ as they incorporate responsible, sustainable, agricultural practices on their farms.” KFC, that venerable purveyor of bucketed poultry, notes that it is “…proud of our responsible, industry-leading animal welfare guidelines.”
What do people who are proud of themselves do? They show off (or, if they’re Minnesotan, they wait patiently for someone else to mention their achievement and then grin sheepishly). Think of the dad whose pictures of his kids are just waiting to fall out of his wallet. Or the guy who finally gets that promotion and slips it seamlessly into happy-hour conversation. Or the kid who wins her first trophy at State.
So you might think that with all that pride floating around, meat producers would be throwing open their doors to the public, saying in effect “look at me!” Plus, the fact that the image consumers have of them hardly matches the one they take such pride in gives them yet more incentive to show off. Forrest Roberts, CEO of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, acknowledged in a recent address to the Kansas Livestock Convention that animal welfare is a key battleground for livestock producers, and that the cattle industry needs to capture the “hearts and minds” of the consumer. Dr. Dan Thomson, of the Kansas State Beef Cattle Institute, agreed and noted that the disturbing pictures and videos of animal abuses disseminated by the likes of PETA and the Humane Society of the US were footage of just that – abuses – not, as those organizations would have us believe, “…an everyday occurrence in our industry.” Well, if so, and if the everyday is something to be proud of, then isn’t the obvious answer to show off the everyday to the consumer?*
Unfortunately this logic seems to have escaped the meat industry. While some pro-industry blogs and Facebook sites showcase humane treatment of animals, the industry must recognize that the consumer has no reason to believe that these handpicked examples are any more representative of everyday operations than the examples offered by PETA and its peers. The solution is to submit all animal operations to the public’s gaze, perhaps through webcams whose footage could be posted online. Or at the very least, the industry could welcome unannounced random visits from third parties as a way to spot-check their activities. But if anything, meat producers are trying their damnedest to make it harder for outsiders to get any visibility into what they’re doing. Per coverage of the Kansas Livestock Convention, Dr. Thomson warned that “…employers need to do more background checks and be careful whom they hire. Public places like sale barns and truck stops are the other risk areas he cited. These are places where the general public has regular contact with the livestock industry.” This push to close ranks calls to mind the United Egg Producers’ (UEP) strategy to increase public confidence in conventional egg production: “Since the entire poultry industry is under the risk of intrusion and media attack using agents posing as employees to gain access to facilities, there is an obvious need to enhance security. The UEP has made recommendations to screen job applicants and verify previous employment in an effort to detect and reject these ‘plants.’”** The industry’s real response to criticism about its treatment of animals is not to open up; it’s to hide and rely on the PR guys to paint a pretty picture that’s completely removed from reality.
Maybe humility is suddenly making a comeback.
*Quotes from the Kansas Livestock Convention are from the High Plains/Midwest Ag Journal
** From WATT AgNet article