Economic challenges dominated the dairy landscape in 2009. Harbingers of better days to come, financially speaking, are arriving, but farmers won’t be counting their chickens, or eggs, or whatever they are, prematurely.
Another thing we can be certain of is that challenges to the entire livestock sector about what I would call the “freedom to operate” will continue to intensify. Two key themes have emerged, and will grow in prominence. One has to do with how animals are housed and treated; the other, the types of things they are treated with. From just this past week’s headlines, here are just a couple harbingers of that:
First, the Associated Press runs this story nationally about how the dairy sector is responding to an assault by the Humane Society of the United States, in California and elsewhere, concerning the treatment of dairy cattle. This particular story did a credible job of explaining the rationale behind NMPF’s new National Dairy FARM animal care program. Mostly, the story is more writing on the wall that consumers, food retailers, and branded product marketers, are all looking for reassurances about the conditions under which farms animals are raised. The pork and poultry people have it worse, but as the dairy sector in California learned in 2009, the deck can be stacked so heavily that there’s hardly even a battle to fight.
The Associated Press also ran this story a few days ago looking at the use of antibiotics in food animals (a topic I have broached previously this year). This issue also galvanizes the animal rights community, and it brings in the food safety crowd as well…and in so doing, broadens the political impact of the controversy beyond just animal housing, since there are human health implications to the antibiotic use issue. The use of sub-therapeutic use of antimicrobials in livestock is clearly a battle that will be heavily contested as a public health matter, and all of agriculture is backed into the corner.
Obviously, neither one of these trends is a good-news item for dairy producers. I raise them, however, because they are consumer issues that unquestionably have reached the national public policy stage this year, and will remain there in 2010. Happy (?!) New Year.