Thursday morning while checking my messages, a news release from The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS, not to be confused with your local animal shelter) showed up in my Facebook timeline. Their latest move in an escapade to change the face of livestock farms includes Tennessee-based Cracker Barrel Old Country Store.
The press release announced that Cracker Barrel will phase out pork products from suppliers using gestation crates in favor of group housing for sows.
“These plans take into consideration a thorough review of studies that have investigated consumer preferences regarding breeding pigs being housed in groups rather than individual crates, and economic analyses, such as one study by Iowa State University, in the nation’s largest hog-producing state, that have documented lower production costs for pork suppliers who use group housing.
“We’re seeing an evolution in Americans’ awareness and attitudes regarding meat produced with higher animal welfare in mind,” said Vance Fouraker, Cracker Barrel’s Vice President of Strategic Sourcing. “We recognize that gestation crates may not be the best method to meet higher animal welfare goals and are committed to evolving to sustainable alternatives.””
HSUS has been on the war path over the past few years, demanding better housing for both poultry and pork production systems – which includes gestation crates for swine and battery cages for poultry. Animal rights supporters have continually called these housing situations cruel and in dire need of elimination.
The announcement from Cracker Barrel follows the folding of several other food chains, groceries, and restaurants over the past few years, who are bowing down to the demands of the Animal Rights groups. HSUS lists these places as McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Compass Group (the top food service company in the world), Burger King, Sonic, Safeway, Harris Teeter, Winn-Dixie, Carl’s Jr., Hardee’s, and Quiznos, and Red Robin Gourmet Burgers, Chipotle, Whole Foods, Wolfgang Puck, along with many other businesses.
To be up front, I’m neither a pork or poultry farmer. I’ve been in or talked with farmers from both styles of production. I trust their judgement to provide proper care for their animals just the same as I do for my cattle.
I am not suggesting there are not improvements to be made in animal production systems. Have the systems kept pace with changes in animal size and genetics? There are rotten people out there who have mistreated animals, and I when and if I encounter these situations, I won’t have a kind reaction. But we cannot allow those individuals to represent the entire animal agriculture community.
Maybe there are changes to be made, but one thing I do know – I wish dearly that these food service companies and restaurants would turn to the people who best understand the needs of animals – farmers, ranchers, animal scientists – instead of folding to the demands of an animal rights group with an agenda to wipe out animal agriculture by spreading misinformation and gaining public support by using sad puppy dog faces to appeal to emotions. Domino’s Pizza recently made an example by turning down an HSUS-endorsed proposition, choosing instead to turn to animal professionals for advice. It wasn’t about their choosing to stick with gestation crates, but rather their choice to turn to someone who knows more about the subject.
Animal agriculture needs to be proactive and identify subjects that may concern our customers – This includes us beef cattle farmers! - before HSUS steps in and tells us how they think we should farm. Are there things we can improve and/or that need to be more transparent to the customer? Improving the dialogue is not always about the science or reasoning, we need to be able to describe things in layman’s terms and be receptive to customers’ questions.
We can continue to stand by and watch as this group runs over animal agriculture or we can stand up for agriculture. Farmers and Ranchers, animal scientists and researchers are the best source for understanding what an animal needs. These people live the life every day, working one-on-one with the animals and spend years studying the animals to understand them better. I’ll agree, there may be improvements to be made, and we can and do make mistakes. Will you stand up and share your story and listen to customer concerns before it’s too late?