By: Rick Berman
Newspaper: The Des Moines Register

In America, we all know the customer is king. But what if that customer not only wants to be king, but emperor, too? Imagine you have a customer who badmouths your business to the media, complains that you don’t have the right products and thinks he knows better than you how to run your business. You’d be annoyed at such brazen arrogance, to put it mildly.

Pork farmers were similarly outraged (I’ve spoken to them) upon reading a recent guest column on these pages by Fedele Bauccio, CEO of Bon Appetit Management Co. (“Pork Growers: Don’t Ignore Customers,” April 2).

The issue at hand is that food companies are under pressure from animal liberation activists who are making demands of their pork suppliers. The current activist demand is for food retailers to buy pork only from farms that don’t house pregnant pigs in maternity pens.

What’s the deal with maternity pens? The American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Association of Swine Veterinarians both find that the pens provide for animal welfare. As hog farmers will tell you, pregnant pigs tend to fight for food and dominance if housed in groups, leading to nasty injuries. Research has found that stress levels are lower in individually housed pigs, and individual maternity pens allow for individual care and feeding. Hundreds of large-animal vets and swine experts recently signed an open letter in support of maternity pens.

Bauccio, however, who is not a farmer, a veterinarian or an academic with published research, disagrees. He is the customer who knows better.

Why do animal liberation groups claim maternity pens are inhumane, despite the wealth of experts who say otherwise? They’re vegan activists. They will never buy a pork chop or BLT even if the mother pigs were given a daily massage, a Jacuzzi and a flat-screen TV. They want to drive up costs by requiring farmers to build new housing — costs that will put small farmers out of business.

Pork farmers would tell them to get lost. But no food company wants to be the target of a bunch of anti-meat wing nuts with too much time on their hands. The easy way for restaurants and other food providers is to make a weak public statement encouraging their pork suppliers to make changes. Bauccio has gone a step further by speaking as if he is a wholly owned subsidiary of PETA.

What’s resulted is a deceptive PR campaign that seeks to scam consumers by providing only one side of the story. Here’s the other side: Maternity pens are humane and are the predominant option for housing pregnant pigs.

But consumers are becoming aware and wary of false humane claims.

According to recent polling by Opinion Research Corp., when told that pig maternity pens have the backing of farmers and veterinarians, 62 percent of consumers are in favor of maternity pens and only 13 percent are against them.

Here’s the bottom line: The animal rights activists have never run a pork farm. Their announced goal is to put animal agriculture out of business, and they have hoodwinked a handful of CEOs. Meanwhile, farmers and veterinarians who live with and care for their animals every day think otherwise.