Confining sows in small gestation crates has come under great scrutiny lately. Major companies like McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's and most recently the nation's second largest grocery chain, Safeway, have announced a phase-out of pork supplied by farms that use gestation crates.
However, recently Domino's Pizza shareholders rejected a resolution suggested by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) for a ban.
The HSUS dabbling in the pig business drew the ire of the Texas Farm Bureau publications director, Mike Barnett, who posted a letter on the bureau blog praising Domino's for "showing some backbone to the animal rights activist group," while others "caved to their demands, fearing HSUS will stir public outcry and reprisal if they don't."
Matthew Prescott, policy director for the HSUS, doesn't see it that way: "It's not surprising to me that a group that is consistently in the same position on this issue would grasp at straws in order to make itself seem like it might be in a better position than it actually is."
In his blog, Barnett suggests we "let research and science determine what animal welfare standards should be, not an animal rights activist groups who misplay public sentiments not to achieve better animal welfare, but to end food-animal production."
In an interview, Prescott admonishes the Texas Farm Bureau for minimizing the degree to which Americans are concerned about how farm animals are mistreated.
"We're a nation of animal lovers. We care very much about how animals are treated and that doesn't stop on the farm," Prescott said. "American farmers have a long history of innovation and the Texas Farm Bureau and Pork Producers Council refusal to address these issues really sells farmers short. I think farmers want to farm. They don't want to run a factory of widgets lined up in a row. They should take note of that and let farmers be farmers."
Barnett also criticized animals rights activists for conducting themselves as animal experts, pointing out that the experts are veterinarians, such as those in the American Veterinarian Medical Association. "I think livestock growers working hand-in-hand with veterinarians do [qualify as experts]," he wrote
But this point is negated by the fact that the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association is led by, you guessed it, veterinarians.
"Because of our long track record of making science-based decisions and reforms, HSUS is now the number one entity in the country which consumers trust on farm animal welfare issues, as reported by the meat industry's own publication, Meatingplace," Prescott said. "Veterinarians followed at No. 2, and farmers operating large livestock operations ranked last on the list, which isn't surprising considering the abusive way many of them keep animals."
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Prescott points out that the HSUS sponsors an outreach program working directly with farmers and ranchers who want to move to better farming systems.
"In fact, on the gestation crate issue alone," Prescott said, "a 2007 study at Iowa State University, the largest hog producing state in the country, which also included support from the USDA and Iowa Department of Agriculture, found that it can save pork producers 11 percent on their costs not to confine animals. There are ways to address these issues that are good for farmers, consumers and the animals themselves."
Barnett of the TFB closed his blog by thanking Domino's "for not playing follow-the-leader in these fast-food follies" and ordering an extra-large pepperoni pizza.
He can eat all the pizza he'd like, but when McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's and Safeway get on board, it's not mere folly. The tide is slowing changing. People are starting to think more about where their food comes from. Ask any one of the three pink-slime corporations that has recently been shut down.