Strange bedfellows: Are restaurant chains sleeping with the enemy?

Posted on May 11, 2012 in Swine Performance
By Nate Brown

Over the past several months, a number of large restaurant chains have issued press releases stating that, in the future, they want to procure pork products from suppliers that do not use gestation stalls in their production systems. Operating as for-profit businesses, they have the right to make demands of their suppliers if they think it is in the best interest of their companies. What I find interesting about these press releases is that they invariably include a quote from a Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) executive applauding the decision. In fact, in the most recent Burger King release, HSUS trumpeted that news as a “joint release” on its website.

It is ironic to me that a company whose core business is low cost, high volume meat would do anything “jointly” with HSUS. I’m not sure how the Burger King brand fits into a vegan society, the creation of which seems to be the ultimate mission of HSUS. Short of that, these restaurant chains must understand that the HSUS mandates will raise the prices on their menus. How well will a $6 sausage breakfast sandwich sell?

If the food industry continues to acquiesce to the HSUS, they may get a chance to find out. Perhaps the fast food industry has a Plan B – filling their menus with low cost meat from foreign markets whose livestock producers are not being mandated into high cost production practices.  Of course, this would be akin to shooting the golden goose since, at present, U.S. producers are the lowest cost/highest value pork producers in the world.

Consider the case of England, which instituted a gestation stall ban in 1999. According to Mike Sheldon, board member of the BPEX (British equivalent to the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC)), as quoted in a Pork Network online article, England lost 50 percent of its sows since the ban, and most of that production went to Denmark, where such a ban didn’t exist at the time. A lot of that Danish pork found its way to store shelves in England, where it has been purchased by British shoppers who either didn’t really want the gestation stall ban in the first place or had a change of heart when they compared price tags in the grocery store. The big loser in all of this? Former English pork producers whose livelihoods were sacrificed to satisfy a notion of “consumer demand” about how livestock was raised.

Of course, HSUS is not working the retail side of this issue only. Pork producers themselves are under direct attack from HSUS. Recently, HSUS filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission  against the NPPC, citing “deceptive advertising related to animal well-being.” The NPPC plans to vigorously defend the pork industry against this claim.

As someone involved in the pork industry, it can be frustrating to read and hear about these issues. But we can all play a part in defending our industry.  Here are some ideas to turn that frustration into action:

  • Be proud of the industry you work in and share that pride with others through personal communication, social media and local events. Producing food is a noble profession that truly serves the greater good.
  • Follow the guidelines laid out by the PQA Plus and TQA programs for animal care. Do not tolerate willful animal abuse or neglect. We must police our own industry in this regard. That starts with every one of us, every day, in every barn.
  • If you are not supporting the efforts of the NPPC via the Strategic Investment Program (voluntary checkoff), please consider doing so. Remember that your mandatory checkoff supports the National Pork Board (NPB) and those dollars are earmarked for promotion, research and education. It is NPPC, through the support of voluntary checkoff dollars (SIP), that can directly fight the legislative and regulatory battles. Vita Plus proudly supports this effort through our support of the Allied Industry program sponsored by NPPC.

Comparison of SIP and mandatory checkoff

Chart made available by NPPC

About the author:  Nate Brown is the swine sales manager for Vita Plus and has been with the company for the past 18 years.  He received his bachelor of science from St. John’s University in 1991.  Brown has been involved in the feed industry for 20-plus years.  His area of interest is nutrition and growth and its influence on the profits made for the producer.  Brown is an executive board member for the Minnesota Pork Producers Association, a board member for the Martin County Pork Producers Association, and a Minnesota Pork Congress committee member.  He lives in Minnesota with his wife, Sarah, and his four children: Hank, 20, Ben, 18, Zach, 16, and Gabby, 11.

Category: Consumer communication
Markets and economics
Swine Performance