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Local View: Big Ag case could leave Americans' cravings curtailed

From the column: "American family farms have become specialized and highly marketable food sources for increasingly conscious consumers. ... These farms must be doing something right because Big Ag has been trying to match their success through clever marketing schemes designed to make factory-farmed food appear to be more ethically sourced than it is."

Farming
Carlton County farmer Janaki Fisher-Merritt keeps track of the progress of a planting operation from the driver's seat of a water wheel transplanter in April 2012. (File / News Tribune)
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America is a melting pot of different cultures, and our eating habits are equally as diverse. First, Americans living in any metropolitan city can likely choose from a myriad of restaurants at any given time. You want Thai food tonight? No problem. Tacos? Easy. Hallal? Done. Moreover, go to any restaurant and you will see a legend on the menu specifically designed for diners to satisfy their food preferences. It is almost expected to be able to identify whether an item is vegan or vegetarian; and even more nuanced qualifiers like lactose-free, gluten-free, and soy-free have become commonplace. It is almost unheard of to dine out or to go to the grocery store and not find a meal that meets your specific dietary needs or preferences.

Despite these trends, some large food producers within the agricultural industry have been slow to meet this growing demand for healthy and socially conscious food. This poses a problem for restaurants that want to satisfy the increasingly specific preferences of diners. This also poses a problem for consumers who want to know that products they enjoy like bacon and eggs come from sources that meet their health and moral standards.

Some food conglomerates want customers to think there is only one way to farm and that healthy, humane food isn’t possible at the scale needed to feed America. This false narrative serves a segment of industrial producers and has been used to harm traditional American family farms.

American family farms have become specialized and highly marketable food sources for increasingly conscious consumers. These producers have been very successful in selling products like free-range chicken, crate-free pork, and grass-fed dairy in markets across the country.

These farms must be doing something right because Big Ag has been trying to match their success through clever marketing schemes designed to make factory-farmed food appear to be more ethically sourced than it is. Moreover, Big Ag, made up of multistate or multinational corporations, has actively campaigned against efforts designed to encourage the sale of healthier products, like cage-free pork.

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For example, in 2018, more than two-thirds of the voters in California supported a ballot measure known as Proposition 12. Prop 12 called for gestation crates to be eventually phased out by California pork producers and will eventually ban the sale of pork within California that does not meet these standards.

Big Ag filed lawsuits to block the measure. To date, these lawsuits have been unsuccessful, but this could change later this year when the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a case to overturn Prop. 12. The industrial pork producers behind the lawsuit now claim it is impossible to diversify their production standards to meet the mandate established by California voters without having to change the production standards for every state. They claim the transition to more-humane farming practices is cost-prohibitive and would result in higher prices if the products are available at all.

This couldn’t be further from the truth, and there is mounting evidence to the contrary. Iowa State University’s analysis found that eliminating gestation crates may actually reduce costs. And National Hog Farmer, the pork industry’s trade publication, reported that “hog spreads … are clearly signaling that CA Prop 12 is not going to present a major disruption to pork distribution and pork pricing.”

Based on these expert analyses, the growing demand for humanely raised meat, and the will of the voters of California with respect to products sold within their state, the Supreme Court would be remiss to support the multinational producers in the case. The Supreme Court should respect the wishes of California’s voters and recognize the ploy by the industrial-farming industry for what it is: a move to prioritize record profits over the health and morals of consumers.

Jack Frechette runs Frechette Farms in Hinckley, Minnesota. He wrote this exclusively for the News Tribune.

Jack Frechette.jpeg
Jack Frechette

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