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Top 10 layer industry welfare lessons learned

Challenges remain, but industry vows to keep trying to do right thing.

During the 2017 Live Production, Welfare & Biosecurity Seminar held this week in Nashville, Tenn., Bob Krouse, president of Midwest Poultry Services, shared the lessons United Egg Producers learned while developing, implementing, maintaining and evolving its animal welfare programs.

10. Science-based guidelines are crucial. Krouse emphasized that having an independent, scientific advisory group using the best peer-reviewed scientific finds is critical to this effort.

9. Science is not nearly enough. Emotions and values need to be communicated. Krouse said when UEP started on this, it thought that no one could argue science.

“It’s a great starting point; it’s a great foundation, but if you don’t have emotions and values included with your guidelines, science is not going to win the day,” he explained.

8. Customers and the public need to be able to understand industry guidelines. Krouse said UEP was pushing for enriched colonies for laying hens, while animal rights groups were pushing for cage-free production.

“McDonald’s ultimately went cage free because they couldn’t explain an enriched colony to their customers -- to hundreds of billions of people across the world," Krouse said. "Everyone had a preconceived notion of cage free, right or wrong. So, rather than trying to educate their consumers -- which isn’t McDonald’s job -- they decided it would be simpler, faster and less expensive to simply be all-in on cage free.”

He explained, “If our customers don’t understand or guidelines and our programs, we are going to have a hard time being successful with them.”

7. When talking to customers, communicate with the right decision-makers. With enriched cages, Krouse said UEP thought it was talking to the right people, but the activist groups were talking to the people in executive suites that the egg industry had never met with before. The animal rights groups weren’t talking to suppliers. He said it so happened that, "even though we thought we were talking to the right groups, we weren’t.”

6. Third-party audits are important. Krouse said UEP never felt like its customers didn’t trust them, but customers still need a way to validate their commitments.

5. Farmers MUST maintain control of the audit process. Krouse said after an animal welfare program is developed and the audit tool is set, the performance and scoring of the audit basically becomes the program. Every year, the egg industry is improving and evolving. If the industry isn’t in charge, other agencies or groups will dictate changes, he pointed out.

4. Be aware of antitrust violations. Antitrust implications can take place anywhere in the company, Krouse explained. The industry didn't think it ever had anything in its guidelines that would constitute an antitrust violation.

“Antitrust class actions can take anything that you do and take a gray area and turn it into something that is in their favor,” he said.

3. Ballot initiatives are not going away. Right now, Krouse said it appears that the only way to prevent trade barriers from being erected at every state border is through congressional action. He said the barriers being rolled out in various state ballot initiatives are all different, and it would be “incredibly chaotic” if animal products were limited on where they could be shipped. However, he said that’s where the U.S. is headed right now, because the federal government can’t do anything about ballot initiatives. “States are free to do what they want,” he said.

Krouse explained that the federal government can take action when it comes to interstate commerce and interstate trade. Something like H.B. 2887, called the “No Regulation Without Representation Act of 2017,” currently before Congress could help states overcome the chaos created by ballot initiatives, he added.

2. Promote the best animal welfare policies, and present the facts, even when public perception is misguided. Krouse relayed that the public is hearing from the media and special-interest groups that cage-free egg farming provides the best welfare and environmental sustainability.

“It would be simple to sit back and say we’ll just give them cage free, but I don’t think it’s being responsible for us, as egg farmers and the ones that are responsible for the 320 million chickens in our care, to just cave in because public perception is against us right now,” Krouse noted.

Customers should be provided with the products they choose, but it is important to stay on record with the facts, he said.

1. The most important lesson to learn about animal welfare programs: Whatever it is, we have not learned it yet.

According to Krouse, the industry was cage free in the mid-1960s, but then that production system became obsolete. Now, the U.S. is moving rapidly back to that in spite of the fact that 9 billion people will need to be fed by 2050.

“Maybe the most important lesson that we’ve learned is that we cannot afford to fail, and we need to keep on trying until we are successful,” he said. “We are still looking for the answers. The challenges are there, but we cannot give up trying to do the right thing.”

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