No winning with double standards (commentary)

No winning with double standards (commentary)

MY daughter's math teacher requires her students to draw a vertical line on their papers; the left-hand side is designated for answers, and the right-hand side provides space to do work.

I'm sure we all remember some math problems where it just seemed impossible to calculate the answer. Regardless of how many times you worked it, a solution remained elusive.

With that in mind, much of what follows is redundant; I've written about these issues previously, but like the math problem, I'm back at it again because I need to somehow make sense of it. So, my hope is that readers will perhaps view the "work" side of the paper and steer me in the right direction toward finding some type of answer or resolution.

My attempts to resolve this problem stem from an email that showed up in my inbox touting Denny's recent announcement about its intentions to ask "pork providers for periodic updates on their progress toward group housing." The email also mentioned that this was part of the "next phase" in Denny's "program to ensure its pork supply comes from farmers using group housing instead of gestation stalls."

The struggle in all of this revolves around terminology such as "progress" and "next phase."

On one hand, there's a favorable declaration regarding Denny's commitment to this process. Within that, there's a clear recognition that removing gestation stalls from the production system is not simply a matter of flipping a switch; rather, it requires a transition period. It's similar to the Federal Reserve's language of "tapering" and "unwinding."

Moving to open housing systems requires a systematic, sustained effort to ensure a seamless changeover across the industry.

On the other hand, though, it simultaneously vilifies individual producers who have yet to make that transition. Never mind that most of them will be making that switch sooner or later. They have to if they're going to meet the mandates established by many of the larger buyers.

However, that doesn't just happen because we want it to. Many important considerations affect the timing of such a switch on an operational basis. For example, modification means significant capital investment; it also requires extended production scheduling to minimize any subsequent impact on sales while the switchover is occurring. Therefore, in aggregate, the conversion is incremental.

As such, the corporations get a free pass on the timing and the tapering process, but individual producers don't.

Producers aren't in the public relations business. Perhaps they should be and can hang a sign on their gate saying, "We plan to phase out gestation crates by (X date)."

Of course, in the absence of such a proclamation, animal activists never ask about long-term plans to switch; the only thing that matters is the gestation stall that's in use today.

That double standard becomes even more confusing considering some of the statements activists make about the general state of animal agriculture. Critics routinely disparage the concept of corporate involvement in agriculture and influence on the food system.

That stems from the thinking that synchronized systems driven by channel leaders (such as Denny's) are inherently unfair to producers versus more traditional production schemes. Stated another way, the activists view corporate influence in animal agriculture as excessively focused on profit that subsequently results in exploitation of both people and animals.

So, we're left with this unsolvable split scenario coming from the critics of animal agriculture (who sent the email I received): Corporate influence is generally unfavorable, except when endorsing an intent to unwind the industry from gestation stalls. Meanwhile, independent producers are favorable, except when they still use gestation stalls.

It makes my head hurt; none of it makes sense. Of course, then I realized that it's not supposed to make sense.

More work isn't going to generate a meaningful solution. That will always be elusive. That's because the true intention is some sort of shell game where deception yields control.

Unfortunately, no one wins in the scenario of situational ethics and double standards ... except for the one controlling the shells.

*Dr. Nevil C. Speer is with Western Kentucky University and serves on the board of the National Institute for Animal Agriculture, a national organization devoted to engaging livestock producers and livestock health professionals in developing solutions for issues in the livestock industry.

Volume:86 Issue:14

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