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By Pettus L. Read

Director of Communications for Tennessee Farm Bureau

Forcing Farmers Will Lead Us To An European Outcome      

The price of eggs is now 67 percent higher than a year ago and it looks like pork is on the same path.

It is being reported by Mike Doherty of the Illinois Farm Bureau, that production is down an estimated 15 percent and restaurant owners along with families are driving to other countries to smuggle their eggs in for breakfast. But, before you start to panic over where your next plate of eggs and bacon is going to be coming from, let me reassure you that is the situation over in Europe today and not here in the southland, just yet. I threw that “just yet” in there to let you know that if something doesn’t change we could be following the same course as the Europeans right now.

We just finished celebrating our Independence Day, which goes all the way back to 1776 when we broke ties with Great Britain, because we wanted to do things our way, without the King telling us what to do. We have always been an independent thinking group of people in these colonies, and when someone attempts to try to change that for us, it usually meets with a great deal of opposition. Just look at the healthcare debate going on right now in this election year and opposition is somewhat of a mild word to use at best. There are those who still challenge our independence and it even comes at times from right within our own borders, and yes, it may even affect your very own breakfast in the near future.

The reason that eggs and pork are increasing in price in Europe is not due to inflation, disease or weather, but because of government mandates brought on by animal welfare groups. In Europe, they have banned cage housing of egg-laying chickens and producers have been required to keep their chickens cage-free or in other systems that have put a lot of farmers out of business. Egg prices have gone out the ceiling and shortages are happening due to the loss of producers unable to meet the mandate demands. The same type of mandates known as the Egg Producers Inspection Act Amendments of 2012 are right now in our own Congress, all supported by animal welfare groups such as the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). If passed, we could become just like Europe, which we broke ties with years ago because of the King’s taxes. Now it looks like groups in our own country want to “tax” us over issues of emotion.

Just like the egg “tax,” Europe is getting ready to ban gestation stalls for pigs next year with the same results to happen for pork. HSUS in this country is calling for the same thing here and has brought on board a number of restaurants and retailers demanding pork producers to get rid of their gestation stalls or they will not buy their product. In other words, forcing the farmers to re-tool their farms or get out of business. The change is no inexpensive way to farm either. It requires heavy investments that farmers have no way to pass on to anyone. A restaurant can increase the cost of its sausage and biscuit, but the farmer has to take what the market offers. Plus, with farmers unable to deal with the change and going out of production, this will only add shortages and push our country into a path of inflated prices like Europe and farmers out of work.

The sad part of the story is that it all is happening due to efforts by those who have no farms, no animals, no experience with farming and may have read “Charlotte’s Web,” getting the attention of major restaurant chains due to emotion, rather than those boards of directors listening to sound science and years of research by our top universities of agriculture to produce a safe, healthy product. Farmers won our country’s independence, but now force is being used to remove our farmers’ independence to produce.

The Cracker Barrel restaurant group is the most recent to sign on with HSUS to force farmers to make those changes as well. Being one who use to eat as many as three meals a week at a Cracker Barrel, I made contact by phone with the group’s senior director of communications asking for a meeting to discuss the issue with their executive leaders and our executive leaders, as well as our young farmer leadership. I was told that Cracker Barrel’s leadership is too busy and they were following the same direction as other restaurants on this issue. I told the director that I always saw Cracker Barrel as totally different from the rest, because when I walked in their doors, I felt that I was at home, on the farm. Not anymore. I’ve spent many years in country stores and my country stores would listen to their farmers. Cracker Barrel’s website says they want to preserve the rural lifestyle, but in my opinion, I question if this is the direction to preserve it, if what is happening in Europe is going to be the results of the efforts being followed in this country today by those who will not listen to their farmers.

- Pettus L. Read may be contacted by e-mail at pread@tfbf.com

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