Following the Consumer Citizenry

Dan Sinn, 1950

In our previous post we compared flock-level assessment (the current industry standard) to the potential of recording live, individual-animal performance, which would enable us to develop comparison models within the same environment.  Today we aim to answer “one question” about the start of Lacuna Technologies….  “Why?”

Let’s back up 70 years or so …the length of time our family has been producing turkeys.  Since around World War II, the understanding and implicit trust between food providers and consumers (formerly taken for granted) has been weakened by huge changes that have occurred in the structure of animal agriculture in the United States.  My father participated in this transformation.  He started producing turkeys on sun porches… nine porches, 200 turkeys per porch.  They were raised outside on ranges.  In 1951, he built a two-story brooder house that I still use today.  Later in that decade, he built a federally inspected plant where he processed his own birds as well as turkeys and chickens from other small farmers.  He shut down the plant in 1966.

The seventies and eighties brought vertical integration – with processors increasingly owning or controlling the other major parts of the supply chain—from breeding and hatcheries, to transportation and distribution.  (More reading: Vukina, T. “Vertical Integration and Contracting in the U.S. Poultry Sector.” Journal of Food Distribution Research, July 2001.) 

The 90s and early 2000s marked the era of consolidation.  Compared to previous decades, fewer companies now own larger shares of poultry production (Watt Poultry USA, February 2011).  Consequently, over this time period there has gradually evolved a distance between consumers and those who provide foods of animal origin.  Human nature being what it is, those perceptions have morphed into skepticism (among many) and to cynicism (among some) and on to ever more vocal concerns and questions, and among some, accusations and attacks.

There is no doubt that most of the public wants to continue consuming foods of animal origin.  Those consumers want to trust the producers and providers of those foods.  But, more than ever before, they are demanding verifiable assurances that their trust is justified by reality.  They want to peak behind the curtain that has for many years been as tightly snapped shut as the one hiding the Wizard in Oz. 

Consumers are receptive to more information because they have become skeptical to the point of cynical and lost some of their former faith in the integrity of foods of animal origin.  Quite simply, due to mass media alone, not to mention activists, consumers have learned about too many breaks in the integrity of the system that provides foods of animal origin. Add in the fact fewer people are living on farms and only a small fraction of those farms are live-meat-producing farms. Consequently, most people don’t know how their food is being produced… what they don’t know creates a tinge of suspicion or perhaps makes us open to unsubstantiated reports against live meat production.

But another part of the situation… a large part… owes to the lack of openness – the secrecy, the lack of transparency—that has come, little by little, to characterize animal agriculture as its business structure has changed from mainly bucolic to mainly corporate.

Lacuna Technologies addresses the demand for increased transparency.  Our systems integrate individual live-animal measurements, comparisons of individual weight as well as infrared thermography and digital imaging, on the one hand, with overall flock analyses (as described in previous post).

The twenty-first century is and will continue to be fraught with new demands and the ever-evolving conscience of the “consumer citizenry” (the many consumers who vote with their pocket books).  We have learned throughout history that objective facts are the root and the tree of winning solutions.  Individual, live-animal performance evaluation is a major leap and tool for consumers, producers and retailers alike…. transparency demonstrates integrity.

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