Tuesday, February 21, 2012

How do you know what a pig's thinking?

Missouri Farm Bureau president Blake Hurst, a former hog farmer who now grows corn, soybeans and flowers, takes issue with Chipotle Mexican Grill's factory-farm ad. He writes in the New York Times:
According to Chipotle’s Web site, the company uses only “happier” pigs. It doesn’t say how it measures a pig’s happiness, and I can’t help but picture porcine focus groups, response meters designed for the cloven of hoof. We can all agree that production methods should not cause needless suffering, but for all we know, pigs are “happier” in warm, dry buildings than they are outside. And either way, the end result is a plate.

The ad is a cartoon and easy to caricature. But its ideas have real effects on America’s farmers. The day after it ran, McDonald’s announced that it would require its pork suppliers to end the use of gestation crates. These crates do restrict pigs’ movements, but farmers use them to control the amount of feed pregnant sows consume. When hogs are grouped in pens together, aggressive sows eat too much and submissive sows too little, and they also get in violent fights at feeding time. The only other ways to prevent these problems are complicated, expensive or dangerous to the pigs.

Since we can’t ask the pigs what they think, we know only one thing for sure about the effects of scrapping our most efficient farming systems: the cost of bacon will rise. Wealthy consumers will reward farmers who are able to pull off the Chipotle ad’s brand of combination farm/tourist attraction and are willing to trade efficient animal husbandry for political correctness. Many big multistate operations will also be able to afford to make the changes, or will at least have the political sway to resist them. But the small farmers now raising hogs will be pushed out of the industry.

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