Meristem Land and Science: Driving Progress in Sustainability


2014 Banff Pork Seminar

Social pressure a rising force driving future of pork industry

Date posted: January 22, 2014

There's a new powerhouse shaping the future of the pork industry in Canada and the U.S. and it's distinct from the traditional challenges of producing a safe, high quality, affordable product.

"There has been a major paradigm shift and no question the impact of social issues is coming to bear on us," says Dallas Hockman, Vice President, Industry Relations, with the National Pork Producers Council, speaking at the 2014 Banff Pork Seminar. "The typical equation that we once dealt with has changed. We find ourselves more and more challenged with social pressures and more of our time is now spent understanding and addressing this to protect our industry and the livelihood of our producers."

Animal welfare is by far the focal point, he says. It has become a major issue fueled by the animal rights movement including well-resourced, sophisticated campaigns delivered by organizations such as the Humane Society of the United States.

The big obstacles today range from specific issues such as the pressure to move away from the use of gestation stalls, to the broader and more fundamental battle activists have created around perceived 'factory farms' and the ethics of meat production as a means to promote a vegetarian lifestyle.

"We have to stand up and recognize that times have changed," says Hockman. "This is not just pressure from the fringe. It's become a very serious issue we must address. The activists are engaging in many cases much faster than we are and we need to step up our game."

A number of trends have created fertile ground, says Hockman. First is the disconnect from agriculture among largely urban consumers who have an idyllic 'red barn' image of farms and farm animals. The ready access to media that fuels the spread of rhetoric and 'gotcha' videos is another. Last but most powerful is an evolved activist strategy that uses a number of effective, emotion-stirring tactics and new media approaches to quickly and broadly engage the marketplace. This includes general efforts designed to influence perceptions over time as well as those around immediate rallying points, such as pressure against specific food brands.

Many of the major food brands are responding by becoming more active in animal welfare as part of their corporate responsibility initiatives. This is leading to more brands making welfare-related commitments and demands that impact their suppliers.

"The pressure is impacting the entire chain and the stark reality is it's not going away," says Hockman." We need a comprehensive approach to counter it." Three keys the National Pork Producers Council and its stakeholders have embraced are standing for choice, transparency and integrity.

"Choice is a big one," says Hockman. "We support consumer choice. But we also want to protect choice for industry and producers."

The Council, which represents producers and the industry as a whole nationally, has moved strongly down this road in recent years, though high-profile campaigns such as the "We Care" social responsibility initiative. "It's a platform to tell our story and we need more of this," says Hockman. "We don't just want to be in reaction and protection mode. We want to be proactive and clear on what we stand for. The days of 'don't ask, don't tell' are over. We need to engage throughout the supply chain all the way to the end consumer."

"It's no longer about just raising our product. We need to raise our voice."

Over more than 40 years the Banff Pork Seminar (BPS) has built a reputation as a leading seminar in the pork industry globally. Full program information and latest news on the 2014 Banff Pork Seminar is available at www.banffpork.ca.

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