Monday, April 9, 2012

Transformation Nation, and we’re not talking Dr. Oz.

Consumers. They are the ones who have the most influential say in what production practices are put into place for livestock production and animal welfare practices.

And these consumers are talking to their food retailers. Lately, we have seen more and more retailers put policies in place that require their supply of meat to be produced a certain way. We most recently saw this with the outcry of grocery stores promising to stop selling or pre-label lean, finely textured beef. Luckily Hy-Vee reversed their stance.

What is more frustrating is that these consumers are getting their information from popular, public figures who “claim” to be experts in food (aka Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution). But that’s for another post, another time.

This concern of retailers changing their supply of meat/food products and policies is not specific to beef alone.

Pork.
In pork production, Sara Lee Corporation is the first to require premises identification (ID). They sent a letter to its pork suppliers notifying them of the company’s intent to begin requiring a premises ID tag in all sows delivered to its Newbern, TN, processing facility effective January 1, 2015. Many producers see the need for this type of identification to help determine an area of outbreak of disease. Others aren’t thrilled.

Also, McDonald’s released a statement in February that they will work with U.S. pork supplier to phase out the use of gestation crates. McDonald's joins a growing list of food producers and retailers, including Smithfield Foods, Hormel, Cargill, Burger King and Wolfgang Puck, that have promised to move away from pork bred from sows confined to the crates.

Poultry.
McDonald’s changed their egg supplier after a Mercy for Animals video was released on how the layers were being treated. Consumers saw this and reacted, along with Target stores who followed McDonald’s lead to drop the same egg supplier. 

Some restaurants are switching their chicken to free-range or cage-free – more as a marketing gesture than to really appease consumers.

Dairy.
Grocery-giant, Wal-Mart, listened to their uneducated customers in 2008 when they demanded hormone-free milk to be labeled and sold in stores. Some brands specifically, such as Horizon, only sell organic milk. Many moms demand this type of milk because they believe it to be safer for their kids, or even their doctors tell them so.

The Point

The main thing I want to achieve with the information from this post is that consumers have choices – and those choices are very powerful when it comes to what they want from their retailers. McDonald’s wouldn’t make those choices and spend more on their food supply if their customers didn’t demand it.

That’s where the education comes in. Agricultural and livestock producers need to educate their consumers on their production practices and why they are needed. More importantly, a simple conversation will give them the satisfaction they need to understand why that practice is in place, and give the producer the satisfaction of being able to produce food for the future.

Agriculture has been criticized for not listening and only telling. If you’re a farmer/rancher, what choice will you make to help educate consumers on their food supply (which is the safest and most affordable in the world, btw). If you’re a consumer, what determines your food purchasing decisions and why is that truly important – those of us in agriculture want to know. Let’s converse.

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