I received an email last week from Matt Prescott of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). He sends an email when there’s news that supports the position of his organization. One of the links he sent was to an editorial in the Des Moines Register by Maisie Ganzler, Vice President of Strategy for Bon Appétit Management Co., called “Dear Big Ag: Stop treating customers like they’re stupid.”
I sometimes check out what Prescott sends, because often there’s a story behind the story. For example, a link in one of his messages led me to the background on Tyson Foods’ position on sow stalls, which was adopted at least partially in response to pressure from billionaire activist investor Carl Icahn, who was backing HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle as a member of Tyson’s board of directors.
I was also curious because a 2012 editorial by Ganzler’s boss, Fedele Bauccio, had mentioned PORK Network (as did Ganzler’s). As much as I would love food companies like this one to learn about real-life pork production from the articles in our publication, I was pretty sure neither Ganzler nor Bauccio were regular readers. As it turns out, a source at HSUS had sent Bauccio an editorial written by a contributor to PORK Network, which had prompted his response.
After reading Ganzler’s editorial, I think she is well-meaning, just not very objective. She’s only listened to one side of the conversation, and looked at research skewed to support her viewpoint, just like the “experts” at HSUS. I use that term loosely, but Ganzler states in another article, “We began working with the experts at the HSUS to create a trustworthy program.”
Her GreenBiz article titled, “The case against listening to customers,” has much of the same rhetoric as the Register editorial. The link to the word “gestation crates” takes readers to an article that clearly used only HSUS as a source: The photo was from HSUS and the organization was quoted a number of times. One would be hard-pressed to find any producer organization source in these articles. Why would they seek input from a real producer? Or actually take a tour of an operation like Brenneman Farms, which welcomes visitors? Heaven forbid the opportunity to form an opinion based on personal observation and communication with producers.
The most accurate statement Ganzler makes in her article is this: “Over and over in my 20-plus-year food industry career, I’ve heard from meat producers that those who call for humane treatment of food animals are actually trying to eliminate eating them altogether. This is not empty talk.”
Anyone who has followed the objectives and tactics of HSUS knows this to be true. Many on the HSUS management team are vegetarians, including Prescott and Pacelle, and they would no doubt be elated if all consumers made a similar choice. However, that’s not the problem I have with HSUS.
Its spokespeople routinely take information out of context. The organization selectively chooses statements that support its positions, including its foundational position on gestation crates. HSUS systematically ignored the recommendations made by the European Union committee that supported the use of gestation crates to protect the welfare of sows, and only publicized the suggestions on pen housing (without including how important it was to have good husbandry skills to make this practice work effectively).
Ganzler writes, “Many industry people seem truly convinced that Americans are being actively misinformed — even tricked — by activists who are interested not in public health or improving animal welfare in food production, but in shutting meat producers down.”
I hate to burst your bubble, Ms. Ganzler, but that’s because it is true to a large extent, and if you checked the previous quotes and backgrounds of some of the HSUS management team members, you, too, would recognize that fact.
Producers are the ones striving for improved welfare – that’s why animals were brought inside buildings and put in individual pens in the first place! Are there better ways of raising animals and is the industry adapting? Of course, and any person who reads our magazine and website would know the industry is striving for continual improvement.
And Ms. Ganzler, please don’t mention PORK Network in a negative light unless you’ve read ALL of our articles, including the ones that cover research on and practical application of pen gestation or electronic sow feeding, improved management practices or health advancements. If you had, you’d know that we encourage new production practices that are improvements for both animals and the people who care for them.
Our editorial staff has never “told pork producers to ignore requests from food companies” like Bon Appétit, as Ms. Ganzler mentioned in her editorial. We welcome dialogue, just as I would have welcomed a call from her and her boss before they’d formed an opinion about our brand based solely on what they were told by others.
According to Bon Appetit’s website, Ms. Ganzler has most recently been focused on overseeing the company’s efforts to fight food waste and on the issue of farmworkers’ rights. These are two important, and obvious issues, and perhaps by starting from a position of factual, relevant information, we can work together to find new and better ways of meeting challenges.