WILLMAR -- "Don't let what happened to us happen to you." The words of a German farmer could well be a foretelling of the demise of American animal agriculture and of food safety and security in this country.
Those words were spoken more than 10 years ago but should be taken seriously , according to Chad Gregory, senior vice president of the United Egg Producers, who spoke Friday at the 2010 Strategic Animal Ag Conference in Willmar.
"Just look at Europe," Gregory said. "They are literally getting to the point where they can't feed themselves."
Ten years ago, Europe exported more beef than anyone in the world. Germany's egg industry was a shining star, with the latest technology.
Now due to restrictions brought about by activists, Gregory says, Europe is the largest importer of beef and 65 percent of the eggs German citizens eat are imported.
Gregory and the UEP stand at the forefront of the battle, between farmers using modern production practices to produce 95 percent of the country's egg supply and animal rights activists like the Humane Society of the United States, who Gregory says just want to make money off animal welfare issues.
The HSUS is the force behind the California ban on keeping laying hens in cages and gestating sows in crates and behind efforts in many states to change or eliminate modern animal agriculture and U.S.-based food production, Gregory said.
Those efforts have enormous ramifications for all of agriculture and for consumers of food. "If you want your food produced in the U.S., you better get active," Gregory said.
No state has enacted legislation to ban housing laying hens in cages, whoever HSUS has won ballot initiatives in Florida, Arizona and California, due to uninformed voters. "Voters are uninformed, they don't know where their food comes from," he said. "They had no clue what they were voting on," he said.
California is the nation's fifth-largest egg producer, and the cage ban will put it out of the egg business by 2015, Gregory said. Folks there are still buying and consuming eggs, more now with the bad economy.
Dr. John Deen, associate professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Minnesota, works with veterinarians and producers on animal welfare and serves on welfare committees on the National Pork Board and the American Association of Swine Veterinarians.
"Very few things are as complex and culturally involved as the food we chose to eat," Deen said.
Americans spend just 7.2 percent of their disposable income on food, compared with 10 percent spent in the United Kingdom and Canada and 24 percent in Mexico. But those same people expect food safety, which can be measured, and appropriate animal welfare, which is quite subjective and is negotiated.
Livestock producers must take action to increase public awareness of how meat animals are produced. The first step, Deen says, is showing up at the meeting and spending time talking to consumers. The impact of fairs, farm tours and interpretive centers on the consuming public, who usually have no connect to agriculture other than their daily food, is significant.
"The Miracle of Birth Center (at the Minnesota State Fair) does more good than a lot of farm folks realize," Deen said. Fair attendees can watch farm animals give birth at the center, where veterinarians and volunteers tend to the births, answer questions and provide information.
Farmers must also highlight that they and their employees are caregivers to animals. "There is allegiance to those who work on the farm," he said.
And, they have to admit that there are failures within their industry, such as those highlighted by published videos of animal abuse and neglect. "When we see those things on video, we have to be as upset as the others," he said, adding that producers must validate citizen concern about those images and offer expertise on how to remedy those situations.
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