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Food prigs and “happy” pigs

Mark Bittman is a food journalist and the author of the recently-published book Food Matters, which he describes as " a look at the links among eating too much meat, obesity, global warming, and other nasty features of modern life".

Naturally, Bittman is a critic of McDonald's, but he lauds the firm for its latest move, which requires that its suppliers of pork phase out so-called "gestation crates" that hold pregnant pigs:

There is no real downside here: the McDonald's move may not be bold, but it's the right one; its timetable may not be swift but it's probably the best one anyone could expect... When McDonald's does the right thing, it's a game-changer. Let's pat them on the back today for doing just that: the right thing. But let's keep reminding them there's a long way to go.

But as Blake Hurst, president of the Missouri Farm Bureau, points out in today's New York Times, this announcement from McDonald's came the day after a TV ad that criticized modern farming techniques ran on behalf of Chipotle Mexican Grill during the Super Bowl (see video above). "According to Chipotle's web site," writes Hurst, "the company uses only 'happier' pigs. It doesn't say how it measures a pig's happiness, and I can't help but picture porcine focus groups, response meters designed for the cloven of hoof."

A farmer himself, Hurst is having none of the argument behind McDonald's new ban on gestation crates:

These creates do restrict pigs' movements, but farmers use them to control the amount of feed pregnant sows consume. When hogs are grouped in pens together, aggressive sows eat too much and submissive sows too little, and they also get in violent fights at feeding time. The only other ways to prevent these problems are complicated, expensive or dangerous to pets.

Hurst notes that the consequence of getting rid of modern, efficient farming would be to increase the cost of bacon, and squeeze out smaller producers. He articulates well the dilemma facing farmers from having to respond to a society that is sending mixed messages:

The market tells us to produce more, as prices and worldwide hunger are high. But from disputes over animal care to arguments over the adoption of genetically altered seeds, the media and popular culture send a completely different message: abandon the methods of production that best provide a plentiful and affordable food supply.

It's not only pig farmers who are receiving such mixed messages. The food prigs get to feel superior about bringing "happiness" to pigs, while we pay the cost.

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