Last week McDonald’s officially announced their timeline for phasing out pork from hog operations that employ gestation crates in production.
First, give me two big hurrahs for the free market doing what the free market is supposed to do. Give me a third for keeping regulation out of this. That’s our one step forward. Now, lets get down to the dirt — and about two (hundred) steps back.
I’ve written before about what animals rights groups aren’t telling you about gestation crates so I won’t go down that road again. (Scroll down to the fifth paragraph in that linked post for quick and easy catch-up.) What I will repeat, is that you’re only getting half the story and until the whole truth comes out, until the whole truth is not just accepted, but embraced by consumers there will be no lasting change.
The Chicago Tribune acknowledges the problem in passing:
Everett Forkner, president of the National Pork Board, said the plan would place significant economic pressure on smaller hog operators who don’t have access to capital, and may not be able to afford the cost of overhauling barns.
“The additional expenses on farmers forced to make this conversion could increase the risk of them having to leave the business,” said Forkner, who also farms in Richards, Missouri.
But no one seems interested in giving it more than a cursory glance. Blah, blah, poor — no, literally POOR — farmers, blah.
McDonald’s isn’t going to tell you that in the absence of gestation crates sows are under even more undue psychological stress than with them. They’re not going to tell you that in order to relieve that stress the cost to produce pork jumps. And they’re certainly not going to tell you that in order to produce pork in the absence of both crates and stalls is to make the price of pork not just jump, not just hop, not just skip, but skyrocket like Apollo 13 on uppers — zombie-like-state inducing bath salts, anyone?
In fact, McDonald’s makes no mention of raising their prices. Why? Because they (probably) have no intention to do any such thing — at least not in relation to this initiative. McDonald’s has corporate purchasing power and there is no doubt they’ll flex their big-business biceps when it comes time to purchase the crate-free sausage they’re demanding.
This will be a blip on the radar of big producers, not ideal, but not debilitating; economy of scale reigns supreme. But in the grand scheme for a small producer it’s an iceberg dead ahead and it’ll do precisely what Forkner predicts: force small producers out of the pork business. McDonald’s is a huge purchaser, and their corporate comrades will not be far behind. No matter how utopian it sounds, not all pork farmers can sell their meat at the nearest farmer’s market. We need big purchasers — but we need them to work with not against our producers.
If McDonald’s wants to demand crate-free pork, fine. That’s precisely how the market is supposed to work, but they need to step up to the plate and tell their consumers now what that means for the price of pork products. They need to be willing to pass the cost of production onto the consumers, they’re the ones that (supposedly) want this, after all.