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Walmart Sets Stage to Monitor Animal Welfare

During the past week, much buzz has been circulating over Walmart’s new animal welfare and antibiotic-use initiatives. The announcement on Friday, May 22 is the first time the retailer has established an official position on the treatment of animals used in its supply chain. So why is this big news? Walmart is the largest grocery store in the U.S., accounting for 25 percent of all food business. So while these suggestions are momentarily voluntary, if taken to an extreme could change the way products are made and sold across the retail industry.

Let’s Review

According to Walmart’s press release, their position on these issues stem from three objectives: creating a sustainable supply chain and food system, being transparent with consumers and helping further promote and act on the fair treatment of animals. To meet these objectives, Walmart has asked their suppliers to voluntarily take part in the following.

  • Adhere to the “Five Freedoms” of animal welfare set forth by the Farm Animal Welfare Council.
  • Report cases of animal abuse and take corrective action.
  • Address animal welfare concerns relating to housing, painful procedures and euthanasia or slaughter.
  • Limit antimicrobial treatment to animals that are ill or at risk.
  • Provide public progress reports to Walmart regarding animal welfare and antibiotic use.

Walmart’s announcement has some interest groups responding.

Responses from the Agricultural Industry

 “The National Pork Producers Council applauds Walmart’s commitment, announced today, to sustainable and responsible farming, which America’s pork producers make every day. By using antibiotics responsibly and providing humane and compassionate care for their animals, pork producers ensure animal health and well-being and a safe, wholesome food supply. Walmart’s recognition of that proves that America’s farmers, not extreme animal activist groups, should be setting food policy.” – Dr. Ron Prestage, National Pork Producers Council

 “In its announcement, Walmart states its commitment to offering affordable and sustainable food – these are values that the Alliance, our members and farmers and ranchers share. The animal agriculture community will continue to proactively address challenges and offer high-quality, safe, sustainable and affordable food for a growing and hungry world.” – Kay Smith Johnson, Animal Agriculture Alliance

Conclusion: Walmart’s supplier expectations are similar to those of the agricultural industry, many of which reflect what the industry has done proactively. Providing proper animal care is a key ingredient to not only the success of a consumer, but also the farmer.

So will Walmart’s requests affect farmers and ranchers? That is open for debate because there isn’t much clarity on a few of their requests. Some things to consider:

  • What will the progress reports entail?
  • Will someone need to visit their farm on a monthly or weekly basis to verify the accuracy of the report?
  • To what extent can the “Five Freedoms” be carried out?

These implications could potentially cost farmers and ranchers more time and money.

Responses from Animal Activist Groups

“This is a historic and landmark day for the protection of farmed animals in America,” said Nathan Runkle, president of Mercy for Animals, an animal rights group that has pressed Wal-Mart for change. “We urge Wal-Mart to add greater teeth to this announcement by making the new guidelines a requirement rather than a mere recommendation and to set aggressive deadlines.” – ABC News Press Release entitled “Wal-Mart’s Push on Animal Welfare Hailed as Game Changer”

“With these principles in mind, Walmart singles out the confinement of hens in battery cagessows in gestation crates, and calves in veal crates as practices that must end. Walmart is also working with its suppliers to address the welfare issues surrounding painful mutilations like tail docking, dehorning, castration, and to move to slaughter systems that don’t cause as much pain.” – Wayne Pacelle’s Blog, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States

Conclusion: Animal activists groups applaud Walmart’s efforts, too, but that is because they see it as a segway to stricter policies and regulation, which will make meat and poultry production even more cost and labor intensive. Or so they hope. Will Walmart “’add greater teeth” to this issue per Runkle’s request? Possibly.

What’s next?

Animal welfare has been and will continue to be a priority among American farmers and ranchers. Through this policy, Walmart will be joining the conversation, but still entrusting farmers and ranchers to act with care. While nothing is concrete because they are merely suggestions, it will be interesting to see how this policy unfolds. Has Walmart set a precedent for other grocery stores to follow? Will Walmart take further action by strictly enforcing these regulations? Will this in turn have adverse effects on farmers and ranchers?

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Farmers care about their animals and the people who say they don’t

FullSizeRenderI think it’s safe to say that my internship with the Alliance has been everything I was hoping for and more. From my first blog post to this one, I have done something I didn’t even know was possible – I’ve become even more passionate and dedicated to agriculture. This is why I am excited to continue working alongside a great team here at the Alliance as communications coordinator!

During my time with the Alliance I have not only learned so much about animal agriculture, but I have also been able to see my ideas come to life through my writing and serve their purpose of informing people who want to know more. But I’d have to say without any hesitation that what I have enjoyed the most isn’t the writing, the content creating or all the other daily tasks I’m responsible for. What I enjoy most about my work is when I interact and hear directly from the farmers and industry leaders that I advocate on behalf of.

Whether it’s on the phone or face-to-face, every farmer I have met cares about three things: their animals, the environment and people.

It’s about animals, the environment and people

You’ve probably heard the first two a million times, but maybe you didn’t realize that the people who work every day to make sure there is enough food in our country actually care about you and your family. A shocking reality is that just two percent of the population are farmers and less than that claim it as their full-time occupation. Of course more are involved in the entire farm to fork process, but it’s the farmers that are are continuously being criticized by people who are making demands that will drive up food costs and make farming more difficult.

I understand that people want to have a say in how their food is produced and I agree that we should be involved as consumers. What concerns me is that people are making demands without any factual evidence to back up why they want farmers to adopt or eliminate certain practices. When consumers who have never met a farmer or visited a farm tell farmers that they know what’s best for the animals and environment instead of the farmer who washes the dirt from his or her hands every evening before bed just to get them dirty again the next morning, it just doesn’t make sense to me.

Whether the farmer is from a small farm or a larger one, they have the same goal in wanting to produce quality food at an affordable price so you can feed your family safe food without breaking the bank. So far they’ve done an excellent job because whenever I go to the grocery store, the question as to whether the food I’m buying is safe doesn’t even cross my mind.

For the majority of farmers, the health and well-being of not only the animals they raise, but the environment they are raised in and the people that use the product from the animal in some form or another rises above any amount of profit. Yes, they need to make a living too in order to provide for their own family and I think it’s fair to say the men and women who help to feed the country should not be below the poverty line, but at the end of every day they are thinking about their animals and if they are doing a good enough job to provide for the people who trust their food supply and the farmers that grow it.

For farmers, farming is always on their mind.

A couple weekends ago I went to see one of my best friends graduate with her bachelors degree and her father happens to be a farmer. He’s actually one of the most dedicated and caring farmers I have met and every time I see him (which really isn’t that often because he’s always on the farm) he is itching to get back to his farm and care for his animals because that’s what he does. He made arrangements for someone to be at his farm to take care of his animals so he could see his daughter graduate from college, but you could tell he couldn’t wait to get back home and do what he loves.

He works every day to provide for people who probably don’t give a second thought to how much passion and dedication it takes to be a farmer, but he does it anyway because that’s what farmers do. They think about the people who don’t necessarily recognize their hard work. Farmers don’t farm for the fame and glory. If they wanted to make bank and be famous they would be in a different field. They farm every day because they sincerely care about providing for the people in their surrounding communities and across the country.

I’m not relying on this blog post to convince you to believe farmers care about the people they provide for, but I do hope I convince you to talk to a farmer and know the whole story before you ask them to do something that is not in the best interest of their animals, the environment or for you.

In just four short months I have become more passionate and dedicated to not only sharing agriculture’s story by connecting with farmers and industry leaders, but creating a dialogue with consumers who are interested in agriculture and want to know more. I can only hope I become even more invested in agriculture’s future, but I’m not sure that’s possible. I suppose time will tell and I am thrilled to spend it with the Alliance!

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What can the agriculture community learn from Google?

All of us at the AlliaPicture1nce just got back from an action-packed, fun-filled week in Kansas City, Mo. for our 2015 Annual Stakeholders Summit. “The Journey to Extraordinary” was our first summit held outside of the Washington, D.C. area and my first Summit ever. What a great way to start my position as membership and marketing manager! Hearing our high-quality speakers share their stories and advice, I began to wonder what the agriculture community could learn from completely different businesses. One of my favorite companies, Google, has a list of ten things they know to be true that drive their business. Five of those were also themes shared at our Summit.

1.  “You can make money without doing evil.”

How true is that!? A focus on profitability does not make someone a villain. I’ll venture to guess that the critics who make that argument do what they do for money, too. I bet they go to a job on a regular basis, or figured out a gig to work from home, or started their own business, or have a family member who earns money and shares it with them, or gets some sort of assistance from others. We all need food, water, shelter and clothing, and having money is the easiest way to get those essentials. The lucky ones get to make a positive difference in that job, and some have enough free time after earning their money to volunteer for causes that they feel passionate about.

It irks me when people want farmers to farm in a way that makes them less profitable just for the sake of doing things like they did in the olden days, even when those practices are not supported by science to be any more beneficial to our health or the environment – and sometimes even less so. We had a few speakers on sustainability in Kansas City. Being sustainable means being socially responsible, environmentally sound, and economically viable. Too often people forget you need to make a profit to be sustainable.

Photo credit: Google

Photo credit: Google

2.  “You don’t need to be at your desk to need an answer.”

For Google, this is about being mobile and being where the user is. For the agriculture community, I think of this as how we are always on the go, our consumers are always on the go and we often fail to meet each other in the same place. We need to be transparent in our businesses and available to meet consumers where they are looking for answers. If we don’t do a good job with this, farmers may lose their right to farm the way they know is best for their animals and the land because of costly regulation or customers dictating required farming practices without a solid understanding of animal care.

ask a farmer

Photo credit:

3.  “There’s always more information out there.”

And sometimes it’s misinformation. Thanks to our friends at Google, we have easy access to an unthinkable amount of information. People have short attention spans and the science of agriculture and food is complex. Most people don’t want to wade through all of the information that’s out there to find the truth. So I challenge you to get better at telling your story and connecting with consumers on an emotional level, instead of teaching them about the science. When they have questions about the science, hopefully they reach out to YOU instead of Google.

4.  “You can be serious without a suit.”

We in agriculture may have a bit of an image problem. Farming, agriculture and food are serious business along with being lifestyle choices. Farmers and ranchers are typically well educated, experienced, hard-working individuals, but they are not always perceived that way. Typically, consumers trust farmers. So again, I’m begging you, be the trustworthy source and share your passion with others.

5.  “Great just isn’t good enough.”

We can do better. We will do better. We are all on the journey to extraordinary and we will strive for continuous improvement. Google often enjoys residing at the top of Fortune’s list of best companies to work for. If you treat your employees well, put their health, safety, and satisfaction first, they will do the same for your business.

Take some time out of your day to think about what companies or brands you connect with and figure out why they do what they do. What can you learn from them and apply to your business?

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Why do people believe the Food Babe?

The world we live in is undeniably complex and filled with wonders that we may never fully understand. This concept of complexity is nothing new, but when people take pride in being knowledgeable and yet prefer simplicity, it can cause a certain chaos to erupt within our own minds.

We like to listen to people whose beliefs align with our own and when something arises that questions or challenges what we believe, we often find ourselves at a fork in the road. Do we put blinders on or offer an ear to the different viewpoint?

I’d have to say that the Food Babe is one who definietly wears blinders.

The Food Babe

The Food Babe

The Food Babe

The Food Babe, aka Vani Hari, is a blogger, author and activist who is known for her criticism of the food industry. She has credited herself with Kraft, Chick-fil-a, Starbucks, Chipotle and Subway reconsidering or changing ingredients in their products.

So what does the Food Babe do? Well, she reads food ingredient labels and finds ingredients that she either can’t pronounce or are in other products that are not food and labels them as “toxins.”    She has about 88,000 Twitter followers and almost 950,000 Facebook fans. Her devoted supporters are called the “Food Babe Army.”

Does credibility matter?

How people assign credibility is a fascinating and terrifying phenomena. Does the level of education one has matter? The amount of experience in a certain field? A combination of the two?

Screen Shot 2015-05-08 at 3.13.56 AMIf either were the case I wouldn’t be writing this post. Hari is not a nutritionist, dietician, doctor or food scientist. She has a degree in computer science. Yes, you read that right. Hari has no formal education in food science, yet she’s making tons of money telling people that their food is allegedly filled with toxins that are making them unhealthy.

Why is it that an “army” of people believe her every word when she has no credibility whatsoever?

Maybe people follow her because they find her weight loss story relatable and inspiring. Personally, I think one reason she’s become so popular is because people are always looking for something to blame their personal problems on and the way that Hari is attacking the food industry as the culprit for her former health issues provides people with an easy scapegoat.

Playing with your emotionsScreen Shot 2015-05-08 at 3.04.17 AM

Fear is an incredibly effective tool when persuading an audience to buy into an idea or product. From a marketing standpoint, Hari is arguably brilliant, but do you really want to fall victim to someone’s marketing strategy when they don’t have your best interest in mind?

Think about it. Hari is relying on the consumers’ lack of knowledge and familiarity with the food industry in hopes that they will be receptive to her outrageous claims and become part of her army of uneducated followers.

I don’t necessarily blame anyone that uses fear as a tactic to get what they want because it is so effective, but I think it’s more important to share a story that is true and have your audiences’ best interest at heart because people are putting their trust in your product or idea and should know the full truth that they are investing in.

Screen Shot 2015-05-08 at 3.01.11 AMShe’s definitely creative…

Although I don’t agree with her scare tactics, I have to give her props for being so creative. The allegations and claims that she declares as fact are something I would only think a screen-play writer to conjure up.

Here are just a few things she’s claimed: microwaves destroy food nutrients, the air in the front of the airplane is better because that’s where the pilots sit, no chemicals of any amount should be in our food (last time I checked water was a chemical and we sort of need that to survive) and food companies “sneak” untested/unapproved ingredients into food.

When I first heard of this woman and her far-fetched ideas, I asked myself if this was real life because I couldn’t imagine her to be anything but a joke. Then when I learned she had so many followers I was at first in a bit of shock, but it’s really nothing new.

People are finally starting to wonder Screen Shot 2015-05-08 at 3.07.55 AM

When I do a search for recent news about the Food Babe, the majority of the articles that appear are ones not in her favor and I’m relieved to see that people are finally starting to question her credibility and ask for proof to back up her allegations.

When people share information without any factual backing and become as popular as the Food Babe, they are bound to be brought off their high horse eventually and it has become apparent that the Food Babe will no longer be on her horse for much longer. She’s a fad that is fading out.

The only thing I really ask of anyone who eats is that as you navigate through the sea of opinions about the food and agriculture industry, and honestly any industry out there, is that you not only hear what people are saying, but listen. Listen and understand what they are really saying and don’t wear blinders. Be aware of their agenda, whether it be in your best interest or not and make educated decisions and base your opinions off factual information.