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Fighting the Right Fight

Dec 02, 2015

Fighting the Right Fight

In his December column, NMPF President and CEO Jim Mulhern discussed how the FARM Program helps farmers handle the demands of the ever-evolving marketplace.

"Helping dairy farmers confront the shifting tide of public opinion on animal care practices is one of the defining challenges faced by NMPF in the 21st century," Mulhern said. "The roster of standard operating procedures and recommended practices on dairy farms is evolving, which is really nothing new.  What is new is that this evolution is being driven increasingly by both measurable animal welfare outcomes and by societal pressures about what is acceptable, as expressed by the clear and unequivocal expectations of our customers."

That's where FARM comes in, he said, to deal with those demands so farmers don't have to. For the dairy industry, that's an advantage,

"The consequences of not acting prudently and proactively, but only reactively and defensively, can be seen on an almost daily basis elsewhere in animal agriculture," he continued. "In the egg industry, the shift to cage-free housing has come rapidly, even in states where there is no legislative mandate. Just last month, Taco Bell joined other fast food restaurants including McDonalds, Burger King, Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts and Panera Bread in switching to cage-free. Food marketers across the country are demanding cage-free housing even if lawmakers are not. As a result, essentially all the new hen housing being constructed focuses on open colonies, not cages.

"The same is increasingly true in pork production:  Demands for gestation stall-free farrowing operations are leading to big changes in hog housing, as more and more food companies make such a system the cost of serving the market."

NMPF has been playing a role in this conversation, as well. The organization's board of directors voted in October to move up the deadline to end tail docking to January 2017, after which it will no longer be an acceptable practice on farms participating in the FARM Program. Though a controversial decision, Mulhern said, veterinary science simply did support the practice.

"We need to unite around preserving important animal husbandry tools for our herds, such as disbudding, or the therapeutic use of antibiotics, or the use of quality feed ingredients that may have a genetically modified trait," Mulhern concluded. "Fighting to hold onto practices that aren’t credible or defensible to our consumers will only undermine the rationale and support for our national, science-based, independently verifiable dairy animal care FARM program. It would lead to a confusing hash of marketer- or state-directed demands that only add costs and exacerbate the challenges facing farmers. That’s an outcome we must fight to avoid."