During the Bayer Ag Issues Forum during the Commodity Classic this year, Dennis Treacy, Smithfield's corporate responsibility officer, commented that the buyer is the new regulator in the ag industry. In essence, what the customer wants the customer gets. However, these days the voice of the customer for meat and poultry is guided by outside sources, namely the Humane Society of the United States. And that's never truer than with this week's announcement from Burger King.
The latest institution to change its practices Burger King, the No. 2, fast-food chain in the United States and a company that while private, is about to go public is making a change in how it buys pork and egg products. In a blog posting on the HSUS website, Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the organization, outlined the latest news. "According to its new policy, BK will only do business with pork suppliers that have detailed plans to end their use of gestation crates," he says. "The company will also switch to 100% cage free eggs for all of its domestic locations within five years."
Pacelle brags in the blog that "with this announcement explicitly disapproving the extreme confinement of farm animals Burger King has set a new standard for animal care in the food retail sector."
In a Burger King statement, Jonathan Fitzpatrick, chief brand and operations officer, says "For more than a decade, Burger King Corp. has demonstrated a commitment to animal welfare and, through our BK Postive Steps corporate responsibility program, we continue to leverage our purchasing power to ensure the appropriate and proper treatment of animals by our vendors and suppliers."
Pacelle was quoted in the BK release saying that "these changes made by Burger King Corp. will improve life for countless farm animals and encourage other companies to abide by animal welfare principles up and down their supply chain."
The pork industry issued a statement after the news broke noting that hog farmers are committed to producing safe, affordable and "healthful foods for consumers, using industry standards and practices that have been designed with input from veterinarians and other animal care experts."
The statement from the National Pork Producers Council goes on to say: "With regard to Burger King's decision to require its pork suppliers to phase out individual sow housing, the National Pork Producers Council is concerned that such action will significantly increase production costs – and eventually consumer prices – force U.S. hog farmers out of business and lead to more consolidation of the pork industry, all with no demonstrable health benefits to sows."
The group says it " supports the position taken by the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Association of Swine Veterinarians, which recognize gestation stalls and group housing systems as appropriate for providing for the well-being of sows during pregnancy. In fact, the key factor that most affects animal well-being is husbandry skills – that is, the care given to each animal. There is no scientific consensus on the best way to house gestating sows because each type of housing system has inherent advantages and disadvantages."
As for Burger King, NPPC says it respects the right of "companies to make business decisions that are in their best interests, it seems that Burger King was bullied by an animal rights group whose ultimate goal is the elimination of food-animal production."
It adds, however, that HSUS has no concern for the hog farmers who care for the pigs every day, "for families struggling to purchase food or for the hog farms that likely will go out of business - costing rural America thousands of jobs."