|Duane A. Lienemann|
Nebraska Extension Educator
I saw this coming and wrote about it with Proposition 2 in California. I certainly had a lot of people that thought I was nuts and over reacting to something that was far away and with people who were not like us. Let’s revisit that a bit. That proposition involved cage-free eggs. I predicted that it would eventually hit the whole nation and it has. Barely a day goes by without hearing of some foodservice company or retail establishment declaring they will only source eggs from cage-free production systems by some certain timeline. Two of the biggest in the world both made these announcements – McDonald’s in 2015 and Walmart just a couple of months ago. When that happens, it seems almost a forgone conclusion that most other companies are going to fall in line behind them. In fact if you go to www.WattAgNet.com you can find the companies who have announced their shift to cage-free eggs in the first four months of 2016! I am certain that meat from pork and beef and of course the milk from our dairies will be next in line. These groups are slick and we have not been very proactive!
I also predicted that the gestation and even farrowing crates would be next - and they were, and what the pundits or media will tell you is that the consumers are driving this. I call BS on that! Guess what? The consumers, by and large, aren’t the ones asking for this switch. According to David Fikes, Vice President, Consumer/Community Affairs and Communications for Food Marketing Institute, “The push for cage-free egg wasn’t mostly by the consumer, but campaigns by animal rights activists.” My guess is that we will find that to be true in almost all cases. The real truth is that the animal activist groups like the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS), Mercy for Animals, PETA and many more are exceptionally good at putting pressure on companies to push their anti-meat agenda. And they are equally adept at describing these moves as the best things to happen to animals and consumers since sliced bread. All we are missing is the Kumbaya music!
Unfortunately it is ultimately the consumers that lose. Cage-free for chickens and crate free for pork production systems are expensive to implement, require more land and facilities to house less birds and pigs as well as a heck of a lot more labor and in the case of sow systems more danger to the farmer. Now comes the caveat that most of us could have predicted. It has not been proven to be any better, as a whole, than other production systems. This has already increased the cost for eggs in California and other states and as the deadlines for facilities to comply to the “demands” will increase dramatically (an example is when the bird flu hit). I guarantee that with further regulations, propositions and the act of using emotions rather than science and common sense, that all of our food will increase; and the sad part is that we will be seeing excellent sources of protein and nutrition potentially being taken away from lower-income families who do not have the resources to purchase more expensive options. I guarantee that these families don’t care how it is raised and under what restrictions.
Farmers and food companies, of course, will adjust if the market asks them to; they are in business to sell eggs, pork and offer food items consumers want, after all. The bottom line for me as an ag advocate and a consumer is that when animal activists dictate what kind of eggs, meat, milk or even grains are available, they are taking away my choice at the supermarket or restaurant and will eventually have a steep price on producers who may just not produce and don’t forget what it will do to your food budget when demand increases and supply decreases.
All of this doesn’t sit well with me and many other ag producers, and yes - consumers. I appreciate my food choices in this country. I know about the safety of our food supply, and the farmers who are committed to caring for their animals. I personally don’t believe in the Luddite philosophy of going back to agriculture of the 40’s and 50’s when it took more land, water, energy, labor and other inputs to produce the food we eat. But really, as I think about it, that’s what it’s all about for the animal activists – pricing eggs, milk, meat and other animal products high enough so there is less consumption, driving farmers out of business. It has never really been about animal rights or even animal welfare. Unfortunately, before long the animal activists and their environmentalist brothers will be calling all the shots? And this should be a huge wake-up call to those of us who support our farmers, U.S. agriculture, and our food choices.
Agriculture and particularly animal agriculture has been subjected to scrutiny and even ill-conceived attacks with alarming frequency for years and now it is becoming closer to home, right here in Nebraska. How do we approach this and respond? If you want to learn more about what is happening, what is ahead of us and what we can or must do I suggest you utilize the organizations that are in place to help with animal ag advocacy. You have a golden opportunity on Tuesday, June 14 to attend a Seminar that is being put on by one of those organization. Join me and hopefully many others in attending this Crisis Management Seminar sponsored by We Support Agriculture at the Holiday Inn in Kearney at no cost to you but your travel and time. Use this link to register and get your ticket: http://www.wesupportag.org/ See you there!
The preceding information comes from the research and personal observations of the writer, which may or may not reflect the views of UNL or Nebraska Extension. For more further information on these or other topics contact D. A. Lienemann, Nebraska Extension Educator for Webster County in Red Cloud, (402) 746-3417 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org or on the web at: http://extension.unl.edu/statewide/webster