How would you rank the following industry challenges in the order of importance?

__Sow gestation housing;

__Antibiotic use in livestock;

__Renewable Fuels Standard/
         ethanol production;

__2013 corn crop;

__Porcine Reproductive and
    Respiratory Syndrome.

Your ranking may depend on whether you have secured your corn needs well into the 2013 growing season, the health status of your herd or your stance on the stalls vs. pens debate.

The year began with such promise — record corn acres planted earlier than most could remember. Corn crop prognosticators were optimistic — a bin-busting harvest was predicted. But the optimism faded as, day by day, the lack of rain wilted the crop’s prospects. The widespread drought crept across the Corn Belt and beyond, putting livestock producers in a stranglehold that will likely persist well into next year and probably beyond.

Jockeying for position, livestock producers were edged out as the biggest corn customer when early reports showed ethanol had overtaken them by gobbling up about 40% of the supply. More recent reports predict corn-for-ethanol
use at about 46%.

Anti-Stall Bandwagon

In March, the proprietors of the Golden Arches asked their pork suppliers to file a plan for the elimination of sow gestation stalls. McDonald’s corporate decision essentially kicked away the block securing the anti-stall bandwagon, setting it in motion for others to hop on, much to the glee of the pork industry’s nemesis — the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Throughout the year, the number of restaurants, foodservice providers and food retailers joining the anti-gestation stall ranks soon hit double figures and continues to grow.

From a producer’s perspective, this challenge is not just about losing gestation stalls, it is about the unsettling fact that those influencing how pigs are managed and cared for are totally unqualified to do so. Even more disturbing is it has empowered HSUS and their ilk to target other common pig management procedures.

Antibiotic Angst

Moving on to the issue of feeding antibiotics to livestock, it is important to point out that the antibiotics commonly used in livestock production are not used in human medicine.

Christine Hoang, DVM and assistant director of Scientific Activities at the American Veterinary Medicine Association (AVMA), during a panel discussion sponsored by the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance, reinforced that feeding antibiotics to livestock at low levels is a preventive measure to keep animals healthy. Without this tool, producers may be forced to treat sick animals with more powerful antibiotics — possibly those used in human medicine — and fed at higher doses. That could increase the odds of a bacteria or ‘superbug’ developing antibiotic-resistance, she notes.

By preventing a disease before it occurs, sickness and suffering by animals is avoided, the food supply is safer, and there are substantial welfare benefits to boot, she adds.

Consumers Unaware

On page 22, you will find an interesting report about where consumers get their information about animal well-being. Of the nearly 800 respondents to a Purdue University survey, only one-third had been on a farm in the last five years, another one-third had never been on a farm at all.

Generally, survey respondents did not have strong opinions about common pork production practices. They did, however, single out gestation stalls as a concern, which researchers attributed to media’s coverage of the stall debate.

About 20% cited the Internet and television, respectively, as the media of choice when seeking animal welfare information.

The scary point is that these consumers most often turned to HSUS and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) when seeking information about animal well-being, exceeding all industry groups, government agencies and scientific sources combined. Scarier still, over half said they did not have a source of animal well-being information
at all.

Consequently, 14% noted their concerns about animal welfare had reduced their pork consumption by half in the last three years.

The Challenge

Clearly, traditional channels of information about the issues facing pork producers will not serve to deliver the sensible nor the scientific, message about the things that directly or indirectly affect your ability to reassure consumers that your production practices do not conflict with their search for safe, wholesome food for their families. The challenge to deliver that message via non-traditional information sources could be Resolution No. 1 for 2013.