Ethical foods and practicality

April 10, 2012

Treating animals humanely is a profound issue. So is ensuring the food supply can meet growing global demand. The challenge is making it all work together.

Which will prevail—market forces that drive industry and consumers toward the most efficient, low-cost solutions, or ethical operators and shoppers, who are willing to incur higher costs in order to promote humane treatment of animals, support small farmers and generally be kinder?

The short answer, says The Lempert Report: both will co-exist. The former to meet the incessant demands of a surging worldwide population which already has many pockets of hunger, and the latter because it makes sense where possible to deliver on a gentler, sustainable vision.

Indeed, in trends we forecasted for 2011, we spoke of consumers’ social responsibility on these specific issues. Now the voices are louder.

Sustainability is not new to the Chipotle chain. But a much-lauded short animated film it aired during the Grammy Awards broadcast in February was emotionally moving to many. Its tale of a farmer who went industrial and then reverted to kinder, more sustainable methods (with smiling pigs) depicted what many believe is a better way of producing food. Willie Nelson sang the cover track of a Coldplay song called The Scientist (it was the Grammies, after all). The film’s final message, “Cultivate a better world.”

The next day, McDonald’s issued a joint statement with the Humane Society of the United States that it intends to eliminate gestation crates for breeding sows in the U.S. No timeline, but at least a stated intent. According to HSUS president and CEO Wayne Pacelle, the giant restaurateur and HSUS had been speaking for years. And Smithfield Foods and Hormel had made similar announcements. 

Wendy’s quickly followed with an announcement that it is working with pork suppliers to eliminate stalls. And the chain’s animal welfare council reported that one of its chicken suppliers “has started using a low-atmospheric pressure system that renders the chickens unconscious before the birds are handled by plant workers,” said The Associated Press. Wendy’s claimed to be the first fast-feeder to use this method.

People are greatly concerned that animals be treated humanely. As this discussion progresses, it must be grounded in what is realistic for the food supply of the United States and the world.