While researching a subject I was writing about the other day, I had the chance to go back through the more than 1000 columns I have written over the past few years, and happened to run across an article I had written concerning animal rights groups. It seems back in 2007, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) had engaged Burger King in ongoing discussions about only buying products from farmers who raised chickens and pigs without cages. The restaurant chain finally gave in to do so under a lot of pressure. Burger King executives agreed at that time that they would buy two percent of its eggs from producers who have “cage-free” hens and ten percent of their pork from farms that allow their sows to move around in pens. Today, they are pledging to buy 100 percent of their eggs from “cage-free” hens by 2017 and all their pork from gestation crate free producers.
That was over five years ago, and the efforts by those groups continue to grow and to change the look of animal agriculture today. Burger King was the first to sign on, requiring agricultural producers to “do it their way,” and as of today, HSUS has pushed Sonic, Denny’s, McDonald’s, Hardee’s, Wendy’s, Red Robin, Kroger, Costco and Tennessee-based Cracker Barrel to sign on as partners with the animal humane group to require farmers to retool their operations or do something else.
I grew up with chickens running loose on the farm, sows rooting up mud holes and farming with a red belly Ford tractor. That was fifty-plus years ago, and in my opinion, we are just as humane today, if not more, as we were back then. In fact, from the farms I have seen, animals are treated much better with climate-controlled facilities, fresh water on demand and food at the click of a button.
We all can’t return to the days of “Ole MacDonald” type agriculture. There is no way to produce the food required to supply the population that we have today using those same outdated methods of production. Consumers demand safe, abundant and quality foods at a reasonable cost. Keep listening to those who urge us to eat a veggie burger to save the life of an animal, and the “abundant” and “reasonable cost” part of food consumption may someday be only a remembrance of the way things used to be.
In my article of July 9, I mentioned the actions of the European Union requiring egg producers in Europe to go to a cage-free or larger cage system, under law, to produce eggs in those countries as of the first of the year. The price of eggs is now over 67 percent higher over there. With the same type of mandates, known as the Egg Producers Inspection Act Amendments of 2012, luckily going nowhere in our own Congress today, and supported by animal welfare groups such as the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), we could become just like Europe. Within that article, I questioned if we were also on a path that would cause farmers unable to deal with the change to go out of production, creating shortages and pushing our country into inflated prices like Europe.
A few weeks after I wrote that article, I was surprised to see a letter to the editor in my local paper from Gene Gregory, the president of the United Egg Producers, supporting the legislation and saying I was incorrect suggesting egg prices would go up in this country. He was concerned the government would mandate the cage changes and thought the legislation would avoid them doing so. He also welcomed HSUS and their support in the legislation in Congress to make these changes. In fact, the logos from both organizations appear together on their press releases, side by side, which is strange to see. Why?
Because in 2007, I based my article about the first decisions made by Burger King and HSUS on a statement from Mr. Gregory, also then president of the United Egg Producers. He said on March 28, 2007, “Scientists have declared the modern cage egg production systems used in the U.S. to be humane and ethical. These systems help reduce hen diseases and mortality, protect hens from predators and soil and litter borne diseases, and help improve food safety. We are disappointed that Burger King may have been misled or even coerced by the animal rights groups which are opposed to the consumption of all animal products including just about everything that is on Burger King’s menu.
“United Egg Producers has created science-based animal welfare guidelines for hens kept in cages and these guidelines may be the most progressive guidelines of all of animal agriculture and UEP is currently working on the creation of science-based guidelines for cage-free production. We believe in consumer choice and will meet the market demand but we do not believe these choices should be taken away by animal activists’ agendas.”
It seems those agendas may have worked over the last five years in one arena, because in my opinion, it sure looks like the farmers’ choices are being taken away by animal activists’ agendas as Mr. Gregory mentioned five years ago. I now wonder what does the next five years hold in their agendas and for animal agriculture?
– Pettus L. Read is editor of Tennessee Home & Farm magazine and Tennessee Farm Bureau News. He may be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com