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Poultry industry sustainability workshop excludes everyone who matters to sustainability

Opinion

This week, the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association, the National Chicken Council, and the National Turkey Federation, will host a U.S. Poultry Industry Sustainability Workshop on May 24-25 in Atlanta. Invited attendees included key poultry integrators, retailers, food service companies and restaurants. They have shut the doors, however, to any groups advocating to create sustainable solutions with regard to workers, farmers and animal welfare.

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-image-chickens-poultry-farm-image40157946The current trend to keep stakeholders and consumers in the dark through ag-gag policies and through exclusion, such as at this meeting, will only further work to degrade trust between the public and the poultry industry. A diverse collection of organizations banded together this week through a joint statement to request that the sustainability workshop and any future such discussion open their doors to a more collaborative process whereby those most impacted by the poultry industry are included in the discussion shaping the future, not just for the industry, but for our food and farming system.

The poultry industry has had a poor track record on three major areas of public concern: workers, farmers and animal welfare. A week does not go by without an abuse story reaching headlines. These come from a range of organizations with different interests, from Oxfam America exposing processing workers wearing diapers because they don’t get bathroom breaks, to RAFI’s work to show injustices to the farmers, to Compassion in World Farming’s work to expose inhumane treatment of chickens. The signals are clear: The poultry industry is in serious public relations trouble. Is this “sustainability workshop” nothing more than a masked effort to get ahead of these troubled waters rather than a true effort to solve these very real and serious problems facing the poultry industry?

Transparency and inclusion are critical to a sustainable food and farming system. Exclusion, on the other hand, leads to lack of trust and missed opportunities for the best outcome. Investors are increasingly watching how the food industry manages the risks in its supply chain, in particular animal welfare. The future of the industry relies on good management of these areas, and that will require a transparent and collaborative approach.

More than four years ago, the Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply embarked on a similar process, one that ended in disaster for the egg industry. While the coalition defined five areas of sustainability (Animal Health and Well-Being, Food Safety and Quality, Environmental Impact, Worker Health and Safety, and Food Affordability), they, too, chose to exclude key groups that represented consumers’ concerns. The result was, when the study emerged from the coalition in favor of enriched cages, it was sharply rejected by consumer and animal welfare advocates. Today, more than 120 key food companies have gone against the coalition’s favoring of enriched cages, citing clear scientific and consumer rejection of cages. As the poultry industry embarks on a similar process as the egg industry, it would seem best practice to include, rather than exclude, groups from each of these sectors to ensure the best outcome.

If the industry does truly wish to sustain itself and be sustainable, it must consider a more collaborative process. Sustainability of the industry does not mean business as usual or speaking in an echo chamber. It means working collaboratively toward a truly sustainable practice, even when everyone is not in agreement.

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