What’s humane and how much does it cost?

June 22, 2009

The row about sow crates has slipped from the headlines but the debate over reasonable standards for farming livestock continues.

In the USA poultry producers fear a referendum by the Humane Society of the US could spell an end to their industry. Ohio State University economist Luther Tweeten said:

. . . it is important to recognize that nearly everyone supports humane treatment of animals, but at issue is what constitutes humane treatment. He says the HSUS proponents believe legislation will enhance animal welfare, provide healthier food because animals will contract fewer diseases and will reduce soil, water, and air pollution. On the other hand, confinement philosophies are associated with protection of animals from temperature extremes, predators, soil-borne diseases and parasites. He believes the general public has looked to science-based research to narrow the differences, but only with partial satisfaction.

The Ohio economist says market forces have dictated animal production practices, forcing producers to ensure animals are well treated. And he says, “Socially acceptable production practices for animal welfare ultimately rest on the public’s values and attitudes and not just on science. Such values range from indifferent observers to animal rightists who object to animal confinement and would end use of animals as sources of food, clothing (leather), fiber, draft-power, or companionship (pets).” To satisfy consumers with those preferences, Tweeten proposes, “to label animal products by production practices. Preferred animal welfare practices may be more costly to producers, but consumers can “vote” their preferences with dollars in the market.”

There is no excuse for inhumane treatment of livestock. But the question of what constitutes humane standards is open.

Tweeten is right that what’s acceptable ultimately rest on the public’s values and attitudes as well as science.

But basing standards on emotion rather than science could impose unnecessary costs on the industry which put produce beyond the budgets of many consumers and force producers out of business.

If eggs were available from other states or countries with lower standards and lower costs it won’t do anything for animal welfare either.

The lesson for farmers here is that perception rules. We need to be ever vigilant about animal welfare and ensure all our practices meet accepted, scientifically based standards.


Grain Price Rises Pushes Food Prices Up

July 12, 2008

Good news for producers is bad news for consumers because rising international prices for grain will push domestic food prices up again.

Bread prices are predicted to rise 10c a loaf and pork and bacon prices $2 to $3 a kg.

Food producers face new grain contracts – $100 a tonne, or 30%, higher than last year.

Farmers say contracts for next season’s harvest, which are about to be signed, reflected those higher prices.

Pig and poultry producers say price rises are inevitable to cover higher feed costs.

Foodstuffs (South Island) chief executive Steve Anderson agrees, and warns costs will continue to increase across the board.

He could not quantify the size of any increase, saying that was up to suppliers, but he doubted there would be any price correction in the immediate future.

“We’re not planning on seeing a reduction in commodity prices in general.”

The price for meat and wool is also driven by the price of grain and that in turn is driven by the price of energy. The combined shortage of food and high fuel prices will push the price of all food up.

Grain prices were so volatile, milling wheat growers were not signing contracts at $500 a tonne, claiming the price was still $100 a tonne below the international price and higher-yielding feed wheat.

“It is a rising market. On a falling market, everyone would be signing,” Federated Farmers grains council chairman Ian Morten said.

Demand from dairy farmers had also driven up cereal prices. Growers have been encouraged to plant higher-yielding feed varieties instead of milling wheat, which gave them leverage against the mills.

Grain growers had this year resumed exporting to take advantage of higher international spot prices, something they had not done for many years, which reduced the availability of domestically-grown cereals.

On top of this is the competition for land from the misguided policy which changes land use from producing food for people to the production of fuel for vehicles.

Farmers and food producers also blamed Solid Energy for higher prices, as it has contracted 5000ha of predominantly cropping land to grow oilseed rape for biodiesel production this year.

Solid Energy plans to increase that production to between 20,000ha and 25,000ha within three years.

Mainland Poultry chief executive Michael Guthrie said international issues had driven grain prices up 80% for his egg business in the past 18 months.

Drought in Australia had decimated world grain production; there had been floods and biofuel production in the United States; growing demand for grain from China and India; low world grain stocks; and dairying had taken over cropping land in New Zealand.

Mr Guthrie said egg prices had been stable for the past two years. He expected prices to rise, but could not say by how much.

Pork Industry Board chairman Chris Trengrove said New Zealand was six months behind the rest of the world on feeling the impact of higher grain prices.

Pork and bacon prices would need to increase about $1 a kg to the farmer to cover rising costs, which translated to between $2 to $3 a kg to the consumer.

Production and transport costs are also rising for fruit and vegetables and that too will impact on retail prices.

Repeated competition from rabbits persuaded me to abandon my vegetable garden but now it has been securely fenced this seems like a good time to get it ready for spring planting.


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