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NPPC official says groups target pork production

By Janet Kubat Willette
jkubat@agrinews.com

Date Modified: 10/22/2012 3:00 PM

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MANKATO, Minn. — The public's perception of pork production and the reality of modern pork production are worlds apart and activist groups are exploiting that void to their own advantage, a National Pork Producers executive told producers gathered for an animal care workshop.

"Animal Care is Our Priority,'' was Sept. 18 in Mankato. More than 50 producers gathered for the daylong meeting that included presentations from the National Pork Board, National Pork Producers Council, Minnesota Pork Producers Association and a veterinarian.

The NPPA will continue to fight for producers, said Pat McGonegle, NPPC vice president of state relations and resource development. He offered ideas for pork producers to break down barriers in their own communities.

Even in the age of facebook and twitter, face-to-face communication is still the most effective way to communicate, McGonegle said.

Communication has become all the more important in the past five years as pork production has changed and anti-agriculture activist groups have seized on the changes to raise questions in the minds of consumers and corporations.

Among the strategies employed by anti-agriculture groups are videos of poor animal care.

The first animal welfare video that had a dramatic effect on changing behavior was the 2008 video of a down cow being moved with a forklift at a West Coast slaughterhouse, said Dave Preisler, Minnesota Pork Producers Association executive director. The plant is now closed.

Some groups, including Mercy for Animals and Compassion over Killing, have members who focus on getting video of producers failing to properly care for animals, McGonegle said. Some of these activists have also taken video of animal-testing facilities.

People are also employed as undercover investigators for organizations such as these, Preisler said.

While Mercy for Animals and Compassion over Killing focus on videotaping, the Humane Society of the United States has a multi-faceted approach to creating agriculture in its image.

The Humane Society of the United States has a budget of $130 million in the United States and a staff of 600, including 200 attorneys, McGonegle said. They have employees in about 40 states and an estimated 23 million members.

NPPC says that HSUS spends less than 2 percent of what it collects from TV commercials featuring sad-eyed dogs and thin cats on the actual care of neglected pets.

As near as NPPC can tell, HSUS spends several million a year on animal agriculture activities.

HSUS exploits what people don't know about modern agriculture to turn people away from eating meat and toward a vegetarian diet, McGonegle said.

They use lawsuits, legal activity and intimidation.

NPPC staff receive emails each week from HSUS about things they've said. McGonegle said he never reponds, but the emails get progressively more aggressive. HSUS also sends out blast emails to their members every so often with a message telling them to call NPPC's number.

Another HSUS tactic is to influence firms that buy and sell pork to consumers. They have attended shareholder meetings, threatened litigation and went to the general press. It's a lot easier to go to the corporations than to try to change all consumers' minds, McGonegle said.

Case in point: Sow housing.

Most consumers don't wake up in the morning thinking about how sows are housed, he said.

But HSUS was able to get corporations to agree that gestation stalls were bad and to motivate the corporations to stop buying meat from producers who use gestation stalls.

NPPC will continue to fight for producers' right to raise hogs however they want, and they are also taking their message to corporate boardrooms, McGonegle said.

They are talking to corporate executives about pain management and antibiotic use in pork production. They are providing information to people whose only exposure to pork production may be the movie Babe.

NPPC has set up two websites, porkcares.com and keepfoodaffordable.com to provide information to retailers and consumers about modern pork production. Keepfoodaffordable.com has 22,000 visitors who come to the site seeking coupons on pork products.

Another effort is the establishment of an Animal Care Review Panel.

The Center for Food Integrity brought together experts who are respected nationally and internationally on animal care, veterinary medicine and animal ethics to respond to animal welfare videos posted on Youtube, Preisler said. When a video is posted, three experts are called upon to review the video and post their comments.

They have done three, Preisler said, providing a narrative of what is being done in the video. They say if the animal care practice is acceptable or not. They call a spade, a spade, he said. Their comments are forwarded to packers and others in the marketplace.

Preisler said it's easy to defend producers who are doing the right thing. He has met with pork production employees who were featured in videos and thanked them for doing the right thing.

Minnesota Pork is gearing up to offer drills to pork producers on how to respond in the case their farm shows up on Youtube in an unfriendly video.

It's incredibility important to be proactive, Preisler said. It's a biosecurity risk, but he advocates inviting key vendors and elected officials to tour production facilities so they can get their questions answered and know what production practices are in place.

If you don't take care of the homefront first, you won't have a chance in St. Paul or D.C., he said.