The Australian pork industry is at a crossroads. In the next few weeks, delegates to Australian Pork Limited (their checkoff organization) will vote on whether the industry in general should move to no gestation stalls after 28d. This move is in response to the decision by Coles, one of the large supermarket chains, to no longer buy pork from farms that have gestation stalls for use in all Coles’ branded pork products. Earlier this week Coles further announced that this ban would also apply to imported pork. You may have seen an announcement from the Canadian Pork Producers questioning the science the behind this ban.
Woolworth’s, the other large supermarket chain, so far has stayed on the sidelines in this debate but is watching the outcome with great interest.
In preparation for the debate and vote, APL commissioned a consumer attitude survey, the results of which I think apply to the American consumer. In general, a sustained negative campaign by organizations such as HSUS when combined by inadequate industry response to the charges will change consumer buying habits short term. However, long term the consumers will revert to their previous purchasing behavior where price, convenience and taste are the key items. In other words, the consumer will follow apply attitudes such as those espoused by HSUS for a short term, but long term consumers don’t want the inconvenience of change. Another piece of good news from the survey is that consumers are receptive to information from the industry about their production practices.
One comment that also applies to the US industry is that large retailers want the industry to be above minimum animal care standards. Retailers want to be able to tell critics that they are sourcing products from production systems that do more than the minimum required by the model animal code for animal care. While we don’t have a code of care in the US, programs such as PQA+ and TQA are good examples of putting in place such programs for the US markets.
Included in the debate is the issue of imports. In an earlier blog I wrote about the strong Australian dollar and the resulting cheap US pork that is flowing to Australia markets. If the delegate body (which is based on the number of pigs and not the number of producers) votes to move to no gestation stalls, will the welfare critics who are pushing for the change support ‘Australian Pork’ in the meat case? It will cost more in the short term, even without the strong Australian dollar impact as producers will need to be rewarded by either a higher price or tax incentives or other means to pay for the investments associated with converting production facilities by 2017.
My opinion based on the consumer survey cited above is support will only be short term. The Australian consumer, just like the US consumer, has a short term memory and buying habits will revert to price, taste and convenience. This suggests that consumer support for such a move will be limited long term. The goal of many in the welfare community is to ultimately totally eliminate meat in the diet as they see animals having similar ethical rights as people. Raising the price of meat relative to other protein alternatives is one method to accomplish this.