Walmart to Meat Producers – Act Nicer to Animals, Please

walmartThe headline at Huffington Post read – Walmart Asks Meat Producers To Treat Their Animals Better. Is this, in the words of Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States:

Walmart’s animal welfare announcement is game-changing progress and signals to agribusiness that the era of confining farm animals is ending

Or is it just another marketing gimmick?

Walmart’s Position on Farm Animal Welfare focuses on sustainability and states:

There is growing public interest in how food is produced and consumers have questions about whether current practices match their values and expectations about the well-being of farm animals.

Values? Gene Baur of the Farm Sanctuary asks people to eat in harmony with their values. What’s humane about slaughtering animals?

Expectations? Do consumers understand that marketing words like – Humanely-raised, Natural, Free-range, Cage-free and Sustainability – are meaningless?

The guidelines Walmart announced are not mandatory and there are no timelines for compliance. This is what Walmart is ASKING the meat, dairy and egg producers to do.

  • Report to authorities and take appropriate disciplinary and corrective action in any cases of animal abuse.
  • Adopt and implement the principles of the Five Freedoms in their own operations and industry producer programs, and publish a corporate policy on animal welfare.
  • Find and implement solutions to address animal welfare concerns including, but not limited to:
    • Housing systems that lack sufficient space, enrichment or socialization (for example, sow gestation crates, hen battery cages and veal crates);
    • Painful procedures where avoidable or without pain management (for example, tail docking, de-horning and castration);
    • Euthanasia or slaughter without rendering an animal insensible to pain.
  • Promote transparency by providing an animal welfare report to Walmart and publicly reporting against their animal welfare policy on an annual basis.

To keep this post from getting any longer than it’s going to be, you can read the Five Freedoms in the Position paper or at, where else, Wikipedia. These Freedoms were originally developed 50 years ago in the UK. What impact have they had on the industrial agriculture system in the US? Not much that I can tell. A Google search found one reference to it in relation to animal agriculture.

It’s probably too early to tell how the animal agriculture industry will respond, but I did find one article written by JoAnn Alumbaugh, Editor and Brand Champion at PorkNetwork. She believes the first point above – related to animal welfare – was:

directed more toward activists than producers/suppliers. The undercover videos that activist groups stage in livestock facilities are edited and modified to expose alleged abuse over several months.

Yes, those nasty activists. If only they would mind their own business and let us get on with making money raising economic units animals. (PorkNetwork provides business information to stakeholders in the pork food system while enhancing the industry’s profitability, viability and tradition.)

Painful procedures? Here is what JoAnn has to say:

at the present time, no approved products are available for certain management practices, but the producers, veterinarians and animal health companies continue to work toward development and approval of products that can assist in pain management.

In other words – we know how to run our business and we know this is just a game we are all playing.

rather than dictating a timeline and requiring immediate changes based on the input of activist sources, it (Walmart) respects the knowledge and experience of its suppliers, and is moving forward to meet the needs of both consumers and suppliers.

In one of the many articles I read related to the Walmart announcement, it mentioned how Walmart’s push for sustainable practices led companies to reduce packaging or develop concentrated detergents. These changes were good for the environment, but even better, they were good for the bottom line of these companies. Reduce packaging costs, but don’t reduce prices. Win-Win for them.

The changes Walmart is asking of the animal agriculture business will cost them money – lots of money and will impact their “profitability, viability and tradition.” They will not make these changes willingly without pressure from consumers.

And, Walmart is asking for these changes in order to enhance their bottom line – to make consumers feel better about shopping there.

But these consumers need to wake up to the lies and distortions fed them by industry, academia and government. There is no humane meat when animals are raised as inexpensively as possible for one purpose – to be slaughtered.

No amount of “freedoms” will change that.

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Towards a Sustainable Global Food Narrative

earth-from-space-western

Interesting article titled Changing the Global Food Narrative by Jonathan Foley, director of the Institute on the Environment (IonE) at the University of Minnesota, on global food policy. According to him, the current food narrative goes like this:

The world’s population will grow to 9 billion by mid-century, putting substantial demands on the planet’s food supply. To meet these growing demands, we will need to grow almost twice as much food by 2050 as we do today. And that means we’ll need to use genetically modified crops and other advanced technologies to produce this additional food. It’s a race to feed the world, and we had better get started.

The article looks at all of the fallacies in this current narrative and suggests this alternative:

The world faces tremendous challenges to feeding a growing, richer world population — especially to doing so sustainably, without degrading our planet’s resources and the environment. To address these challenges, we will need to deliver more food to the world through a balanced mix of growing more food (while reducing the environmental impact of agricultural practices) and using the food we already have more effectively. Key strategies include reducing food waste, rethinking our diets and biofuel choices, curbing population growth, and growing more food at the base of the agricultural pyramid with low-tech agronomic innovations.Only through a balanced approach of supply-side and demand-side solutions can we address this difficult challenge.

One of the primary drivers of this changed narrative is changing what we eat.

We could do much to ease the pressure on the global food system by looking first at transforming diets where they are already very rich, like North America and Europe. Shifting to less meat-intensive diets in these regions could have dramatic impacts on the food system. But just as important is to focus on the changing diets of newly affluent people — for example, new middle-class people in the cities of China, India, Indonesia and elsewhere. Will they continue to eat a mostly plant-based diet, with little waste, or will they move toward a meat-rich Western diet? In fact, what these people choose to eat in the coming decades will determine much of the future of the world’s food system.

Here is how our food policy and food choices make a difference in yield today.

the typical Midwestern farm could theoretically provide enough calories to feed about 15 people daily from each hectare of farmland. But there’s a catch: People would need to eat the corn and soybeans these farms grow directly, as part of a plant-based diet, with little food waste. What Cassidy found was that the actual Midwestern farm today provides only enough calories to feed roughly five people per day per hectare of farmland, mainly because the vast majority of the corn and soybeans are being used to make ethanol or to feed animals. Amazingly, feeding five people per day per hectare is comparable to the production of an average farm in Bangladesh today.

Foley also makes the case for why GMO crops aren’t the answer to increasing the amount of food grown worldwide.

Can we meet the challenges of changing food policy in the US and setting an example for other developing nations? I don’t know, but in order to feed the world in the decades ahead, we need to work for a sustainable global food policy and change the current unsustainable narrative.