Iowa expo pork producers push back against animal rights initiatives
A national group of pork producers said it would more aggressively tackle industry challenges, including controversial animal welfare requirements, under a new strategic plan unveiled at the World Pork Exhibition in Des Moines this week.
Bryan Humphreys, CEO of National Pork Producers Council, said the group plans to be “less reactive and more proactive” on national and state issues, including trade, government policy and animal rights initiatives. These include voter-approved Proposition 12 in California and Question 3 in Massachusetts, which require producers selling products in those states to meet expanded space requirements for pregnant sows, which are typically kept in space-restricted gestation stalls.
“To put it bluntly, producers need the freedom to run their own businesses to the high standards of our industry and no one else’s,” Humphreys said during a press conference at the Iowa State Fairground. , where the pork exhibition is held until Friday.
Iowa is the nation’s largest pork producer, raising about 50 million hogs a year, and the show is expected to draw about 10,000 attendees.
The Pork Producers Council, the organizer of the show, has been an “excellent advocate for the industry,” Humphreys said in an interview. For example, the group filed the legal challenge to Proposition 12 with the American Farm Bureau Federation, and an appeal is before the United States Supreme Court.
But Humphreys said the group could do more to help restaurant companies, retailers, lawmakers and regulators understand how “farms really work today.”
As an example of the kinds of challenges facing the industry, he pointed to billionaire Carl Icahn’s efforts this spring to bring two animal rights activists onto the McDonald’s board.
In April, Icahn published a letter saying the fast food chain failed to meet its 10-year goal of eliminating gestation stalls for pregnant sows by this year. “By failing to take prompt and meaningful action on this matter, McDonald’s management and board of directors … welcome each other, while tolerating cruelty,” Icahn wrote.
Humphreys said producers don’t need ‘billionaire investors who don’t really understand our industry trying to push change forward’, adding that the National Pork Council is talking to companies like McDonald’s about welfare issues animal, including industry standards for animal care.
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“We need to be able to address everything from housing and animal welfare to international trade issues,” Humphreys said, adding that 25% to 30% of American pork is exported. Those exports were valued at about $8.1 billion last year, the group said.
McDonald’s replied to Icahn critics, saying the Illinois-based restaurant chain plans to get up to 90% of its American pork this year from pigs gestated by sows not housed in gestation stalls.
Animal rights groups have called on the California and Massachusetts initiatives, saying gestation stalls are inhumane, not giving pregnant sows enough room to stand up and turn around. The new laws also require additional space for calves and laying hens.
Humphreys said the initiatives were approved because voters “don’t fully understand everything we do on our farms to take care of the animals.” Producer groups say the stalls allow sows to receive individual feeding and care while protecting them from other pigs who may be aggressive towards them when pregnant.
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A University of California study predicts that sow mortality rates will increase under Proposition 12, as does a statement of impact on the law of California Department of Food and Agriculture.
The Pork Producers Council warned that the law would also increase costs for California consumers and U.S. pork producers. While the law was supposed to go into effect Jan. 1, it has been put on hold while the state finalizes the rules to enforce it.
Currently, the industry does not have enough hogs available to supply consumers in California, the most populous state, under the new law, said Steve Meyer, an economist at Partners for Production Agriculture in Ames.
“California is about 10% of our production,” Meyer said. “I think we need 600,000 to 650,000 Prop 12 compliant sows to supply all the pork that California normally consumes…and we’re still about 300,000 short.”
“If this went into effect tomorrow, California would miss about 50-60% of what it consumed in the past, and 5-6% of our total production would have to be sold elsewhere,” he said. .
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Michael Formica, general counsel for the council, said he believed the California initiative was “designed by these animal rights groups to undermine the competitiveness of the U.S. pork industry, reduce the supply of pork, then eventually raise prices for consumers”.
Nationally, consumers paid 13.7% more for pork in April than a year earlier, according to the Consumer Price Index. This is similar to the percentage increases for beef and veal, at 14.3%, and poultry, at 15.3%. Eggs were 22.6% higher, according to the index.
“I think you have a group in society that wants to hand out mandates, and they don’t understand modern agriculture,” said Terry Wolters, a Minnesota pork producer and chairman of the board, during a press conference.
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“We’re in a great position to feed not just this country, but the world,” Wolters said, “and these practices simply prohibit that.”
The council canceled the 2019 expo due to concerns about the global spread of African swine fever, a deadly disease that has yet to enter the United States, and in 2020, with the outbreak of the global pandemic of COVID-19.
Donnelle Eller covers agriculture, environment and energy for the Register. Contact her at [email protected] or 515-284-8457.