Let’s compare and contrast two stories in the recent news about pork production. One is a story of dollars and cents, and one is a story of dollars and sense.
Dollars & Cents
Last September, Smithfield, the world’s largest pork producer sold itself to the Chinese for $4.7B. Smithfield raises about 15M pigs per year producing over 6B pounds of pork sold under popular brand names including Farmland, Armour, Cook’s Ham, Krakus Ham, Patrick Cudahy and John Morrell. When the sale to Chinese went through, Smithfield’s CEO stated: “This is a great transaction for all Smithfield stakeholders, as well as for American farmers and U.S. agriculture. The partnership is all about growth, and about doing more business at home and abroad. It will remain business as usual — only better — at Smithfield.”
‘Business as usual’ is a telling comment. Smithfield is notorious for factory farming; incorporating the use of inhumane gestation crates, confined animal feeding operations and environmental pollution.
To quell some of the negative press, Smithfield is “recommending that its contract growers phase out the practice of keeping female hogs in small metal crates while pregnant.” This is quite the bold move for a factory farmer where disease, pollution and animal confinement are standard practice.
On 1/21/14 more news broke: Problems Persist After Smithfield Sells Out to Shuanghui; Future Remains Uncertain. The Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation and Waterkeeper Alliance issued a Notice of Intent to sue the current and former owners and operators of a Smithfield owned feeding operation, located in North Carolina, to stop pollution caused by illegal waste disposal.
Dollars & Sense
Ironically, one day earlier, the NY Times posted this story: Demand Grows for Hogs That Are Raised Humanely Outdoors.
Consumer awareness and concern about the use of antibiotics, humane animal treatment and the environment is growing. More chefs and restaurateurs are featuring pasture raised, all natural pork on their menus. The popularity of “farm-to-fork” and “nose-to-tail dishes” is growing.
Opposite to the Smithfield mass production model, pigs raised by family farmers who use sustainable production methods which preserve the land and its resources for future generations, is fast becoming en vogue. The pigs are happy, the farmers are happy, and consumers are happy eating a better product.
Pigs raised outdoors using traditional farming and animal husbandry methods cost more because it costs more to raise them this way. However, the Times article also points out that as much as consumers say they want their meat to come from humanely raised animals, they still resist paying higher prices for pasture-raised pork.
This resistance is what continues to drive companies like Smithfield to keep producing cheap pork, and the consequences that go along with it.
Finding Middle Ground
The situation becomes one of trade-offs. Which is worse: Paying less for cheap pork thereby supporting the issues associated with pervasive factory farming, or paying more for pork thereby supporting the issues associated with humane, natural and sustainable farming? In my opinion, one will never fully replace the other, but both can improve.
On the other side of the fence, I see the daily dilemma Buedel Fine Meats customers face between their desire to avoid offering commodity pork and trying to manage their food costs. Many chefs and restaurateurs are simply unable to absorb the higher cost of all natural pasture raised pork and maintain their desired profits. They too are voting with their dollars.
Perhaps there is a middle ground.
A movement to change the status quo can be ignited by slowly adding pasture raised pork items to meals and menus. Start with one or two items, promote them and educate the consumer on the value. My guess is that a few will stick, and then maybe a few more.
If we all do this, we can begin to deliver a subtle message to the Smithfield’s of the world in a language they understand – money. Soon they’ll listen because they have to return profits to their shareholders. When the factory farmers see more dollars being spent for pasture raised pork, they’ll want to capture some of the growing segment – then someday perhaps, most of it, and we’ll all be better off.