There were some interesting challenges to conventional wisdom when it comes to food this week. Stanford University and Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care released a study showing organic foods – whether produce or meat/dairy – have no nutritional or safety advantage over conventional foods, while the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) expanded its corporate intimidation schemes – some call them blackmail – against Tyson Foods and Seaboard Corp. by targeting the financial services companies which invest in those companies.
The Stanford University study, which reviewed over 235 global studies of organic foods and their nutritional and health contributions, found no significant advantages to such diets. This is not news to anyone in the food industry; but it’s not the best news for those who charge four or five times conventional prices for organic foods because the public believes there is some kind of benefit. I’m sure Whole Foods will find someone somewhere to try and discredit the Stanford review, but it won’t change the reality or the morality of continuing the big lie of organic safety and nutrition to maintain profit margins.
The problem with believing something because you want it to be true is that it doesn’t make it true. Organic will always be more labor intensive, less productive — and hence, more expensive — and now we hear yet again, no more nutritious or safe than any other food. Given the organic crowd touts its production practices as the silver bullet to solve world food demand, this should be sobering news.
And then we have the ever-arrogant HSUS, impatient with the progress of its campaign to threaten food companies into sourcing pork from non-gestation stall producers, and appalled that Tyson and Seaboard have demonstrated unexpected immunity to its threats. HSUS has decided variations in pork husbandry, pork availability, price and quality have no place in the discussion over stalls. It’s classic HSUS hubris: It’s our way or the highway.
Once McDonald’s decided in May to knuckle under to HSUS on gestation stalls, other fast food chains, supermarkets and hot dog vendors, sensing a public relations “win”, jumped on board While the lack of understanding and foresight of these companies is remarkable – but not unexpected – their refusal to understand the impact of what they’re doing to themselves, with no appreciable benefit to the animals, is mind blowing. Keep in mind these companies generally don’t own pigs, they just want to see them in group housing by 2022 because it gets them the HSUS seal of approval, meaning HSUS gets off their back. This is the old, tired corporate image mindset of “give them something; make them go away,” laced with a generous dose of “a lot can happen between now and 2022; we’ll worry about it then.”
However, this week, St. Peter, Minnesota, veterinarian Dr. Tim Loula told attendees at the FeedFirst conference in Minneapolis that an end to crates means a wholesale shift in breed selection, management and housing. “(A shift from stalls) is not a simple matter of flipping a switch and making a change,” Loula told PorkNetwork. He went on describe the dynamics of hog production over the last 20 years, and how moving away from stalls means unintended consequences – a consistent result of HSUS demands.
Loula reported that when Polish hog producers began to transition away from stalls to meet a European Union (EU) directive, that nation went from over 1 million sows three years ago, to fewer than 650,000 today, with producers in that Eastern European nation expecting total sow numbers to decrease by another 10-20%. He pointed out most producers have never seen sows in groups pens. “They don’t know that they will fight, and how severely they’ll fight,” Loula said. How’s that for “welfare?”
What this all translates to is higher costs of production, higher costs to the various retail outlets that feel all warm and fuzzy about their press releases, and higher costs to consumers. How is this a good thing if there’s no science demonstrating gestation crates or lack thereof means much of anything to the pig, and pork producers start going out of business because only the biggest among them can afford to transition to group housing?
I ask a silly question; never have I ever heard HSUS or any other activist group talk about the human costs or consequences of animal rights political campaigns. The movement’s mantra has always been “if you can’t legislate them out of business or regulate them out of business, then cost them out of business.” And with the aid and comfort of meat retailers, the movement is well on its way to success.
Too bad those retailers didn’t take those costs – and those “unintended consequences” – into consideration before cranking out those press releases.