Tyson Foods desires to be European
By Trent Loos
Tyson Foods has apparently decided that United States consumers are getting off easy with the inexpensive food supply they have access to. By comparison, European consumers are spending 35 percent more for food purchases than they did just 10 years ago. The UK alone has seen a 4.5 percent increase in each of the past two years because of “perceived” consumer demands regarding animal handling that have been forced upon the producers. I see no reason for the U.S. consumer to suffer like those in the EU.
We are continually told that we need to make changes to production and animal handling because we need to meet consumer demands. While this may not be considered “scientific” enough for some of you, I have questioned many consumers in my recent travels about the subject of animal treatment on farms and ranches and the answer is nearly always the same.
I have not met one person who expresses any concern about how animals are being treated. I have determined, through my own research, that 95 percent of the U.S. consumers either don’t care or simply assume animal care is being handled correctly. In discussing the subject with large meat retailers, I found the same to be true. They are not bombarded with questions and demands from shoppers in their stores.
In fact, I found this statement from a Tyson spokesperson back in May 2013:
“The company launched the Farm Check program with its pork suppliers in 2012 after studying perceptions, priorities, concerns and expectations of retailers, consumers and producers. Interestingly, Tyson’s survey work indicated its retail customers are more concerned about animal welfare issues than consumers, and that producers are more concerned about proper treatment of animals than either group. However, about 75 percent of consumers are at least somewhat concerned about how meat is produced, including use of antibiotics and hormones, animal welfare and sustainability.”
Whether our numbers jive or not, the bottom line is that nobody cares more about the welfare of animals than the farmer. Yet Tyson has just sent a letter to pork suppliers stating that their own FarmCheck alone does not give them enough control over how production systems are managed. Here are a few “highlights” of the letter that showed up in my mailbox”
“We urge all pork producers to use video monitoring in their sow farms to increase oversight and decrease biosecurity risks.
“We encourage pork producers to discontinue the use of manual blunt force as the primary method of euthanizing sick and injured piglets.
“We support the development and use of pain mitigation for tail docking and castration for piglets.
“We urge pork producers to improve housing systems for gestating sows by focusing on both the quality and quantity of space provided.”
These directions and suggestions will lead to mandates that are exactly like those that have been put in place in Europe. What has the end result been across the pond?
In June of 2012 the European Pig Farming Association reported:
“Falling numbers in the 12 months to June 2012 have been reported this week by Denmark (-2.3), Germany (-1.3), Ireland (-6.6), Spain (-2.8), France (-3.2), Italy (-13), Hungary (-5), the Netherlands (-3.6), Austria (-2.8), Poland (-9.6) and Sweden (-7.2).”
The ultimate goal of the animal rights groups that have been granted a seat on Tyson’s Animal Well-Being Panel is the elimination of livestock production. Clearly these folks have more input in the direction of Tyson’s regulations than the good people seated on the board who actually know that the farmer knows best when it comes to animal welfare.
The bottom line is that Tyson is free to implement whatever standards it wishes as a company. I personally think that making these demands in the name of animal welfare is misleading when you are simply attempting to carve out your marketing niche through a grandiose publicity campaign. Ultimately it will be the farmers, the animals and the U.S. consumers that suffer the most.
So, while I do support Tyson’s right to run the company as they see fit, I assure you that I will not be selling any more of my critters into their system and I think it is time that more producers get more involved in the business of marketing directly to the consumer. Perhaps a resurgence in small local lockers is about to take place. While it is easy to say, who now is serious about making it happen? If customers want to know the farmer that raises their pork, let’s make it happen.
Editor’s note: Trent Loos is a sixth generation United States farmer, host of the daily radio show, Loos Tales, and founder of Faces of Agriculture, a non-profit organization putting the human element back into the production of food. Get more information at www.FacesOfAg.com, or email Trent at firstname.lastname@example.org.