Farming in an animal welfare friendly way can be the key to better profitability.--speaker at the Oxford Farming Conference
It's no secret that the "humane treatment" movement is motivated by profit. Most things are. If humane treatment and free range labels were accurate, they'd say, "We treat animals in ways people consider more humane because it makes them feel better about consuming the flesh of these animals, which, in turn, earns us a bigger profit." But truth makes for bad marketing. So the producer of humanely treated meat has to alter the truth. But how much? Does he have to resort to outright lies or can he maybe get by with some well thought-out distortions? Let's re-state the truth and see. "We treat animals in ways people consider more humane because it makes them feel better about consuming the flesh of these animals, which, in turn, earns us a bigger profit." Obviously the part about bigger profits has to go. They probably want to delete the part about making people feel better about themselves too, since accusing your prospective customers of hypocrisy is not the best way to build customer loyalty and generate sales. So they're left with the first part of the proposition. "We treat animals in ways people consider more humane." "Ways people consider" is far too ambiguous. It might lead people to the uncomfortable realization that it's also possible to consider slaughter as something less than humane. So what's left? "We treat animals humanely." That's it. Perfect. Now all they need is someone to deliver the message. It can't be the farmers themselves. People do tend to associate farmers with homespun virtues and uncomplicated beliefs, but they also understand that the producing and selling of animal flesh is the farmers' livelihood, which might be considered a conflict of interest. So if not the farmers who? Third party certifiers. But not a merely impartial certifier. They need a certifier the public considers an advocate for the well-being of animals. The big names, the A-listers, if you will, are out of the family farmer's league. They offer their services to the bigger, deeper-pocketed corporations. For instance, Temple Grandin sells her glowing testimonials to McDonald's. She wouldn't even return a family farmer's phone call. So the family farmer is forced to turn to organizations like the Animal Welfare Institute which specializes in family farms. The labels are printed. The photographer comes out to the farm and takes heart-melting photos of the farmer making goo goo eyes at the steer he'll soon slaughter, maybe just a few minutes after the photorgrapher packs up her gear. But it's the image of the happy steer and the caring farmer that lives on in marketing materials, PR releases and news articles. Humane treatment is a win-win-lose situation. The farmers win because they get to charge more for their products. The consumers win because they get to consume their animal flesh with an untroubled conscience. The only losers in the happy green field utopia are the animals.