McDonalds became the darling of the agriculture community when it unveiled its current advertising campaign that features some of the thousands of farmers and cattle owners who supplies the international fast food company’s 33,000 stores and 68 million daily consumers.
The ads were hailed as a major PR boost for the embattled agriculture industry and farmers and ranchers were encouraged to praise McDonalds for its efforts and positive campaign. In fact I was one of hundreds that wrote McDonalds praising them for their dedication to the farmers and ranchers of this country.
The agriculture industry truly thought it had a bedfellow in McDonalds, who has previously rebuffed pressure from HSUS and other organizations to use only cage-free eggs. But the McDonalds’ announcement this week that it will require its pork producers to phase –out the use of gestation crates represents an about-face for a company that seemed able to stand firm against outside influences and demands.
In a press release issued by McDonalds, the company begins its explanation of the change by noting that the removal of gestation crates is supported by HSUS. The company explained the change as a means of moving toward a more sustainable form of agriculture and pork production. McDonalds further justified its move by noting that its actions are backed by leading independent animal welfare experts. It also added that it has been thinking of making the move for years.
The National Pork Producers Council responded with a vague and general statement that neither supports McDonalds’ change or labels it as ill-conceived. The organization said it will help its producers meet McDonalds’ requests and will continue to work to evolve the industry to meet consumer demands. It’s a nice way of saying the industry has to play along with the demands of one of its largest customers.
The frightening part of the whole situation is not the move away from gestation crates but instead the ability of one of agriculture’s most powerful enemies to reach international companies that once seemed unreachable. And the announcement comes on the heals of the Chipotle commercial that aired during the Grammy awards and urged people to support a move back to traditional agriculture. It’s a one-two punch that isn’t winning any new farmer friends for either company but is putting up yet more hurdles the agriculture industry has to jump.
It looks like agriculture may have lost the battle with McDonalds but that doesn’t mean we have to lose the war. We as farmers and ranchers have to continue fighting for our practices and methods. We must explain to consumes what we do and why we do it and we have to continue to fight for our way of life because – as McDonalds made very clear today – nothing is guaranteed and our opponents are always on the offense.