Egg farms: Dealing with the yuck factor
I attended a presentation from a public relations specialist who was addressing a poultry industry gathering discussing the subject of hidden video attacks, and they said that when communicating with consumers we always have to be cognizant of the "yuck" factor. This was years ago, but I am reminded of the concept each time I see attack video footage recorded at a poultry facility. Every aspect of animal production, transport and processing has some activity that when viewed through the naïve eyes of the consumer might get them to say "yuck."
We all know that any employee who comes in contact with birds or eggs needs to be trained according to your company’s animal welfare and food safety policies, and this should be documented; this is a given. But companies need to go a step further than just making sure employees engage in the appropriate behaviors; the industry needs to look at its own operations as an outsider would. What things would make them say "yuck"?
In recent video from a turkey operation, several somewhat bloody cull birds were shown. The video was recorded during load out at a farm, so the fact that there were some culls was not surprising to anyone in the industry, but would you want to have to explain this to your customers?
In video from a layer operation, the number of flies seemed to someone like me, who has never worked on a commercial egg farm, to be a bit excessive, and I think that some customers might say "yuck" to that.
The egg industry needs to be able to look at its own practices and the conditions on its farms, and try to minimize the instances that would make the consumer uncomfortable, even if the consumer isn’t visiting every day. Integrated pest control programs on farms are important for good farm biosecurity and food safety, but also for good public relations. The goal should be that all egg farms and packing facilities are ready for visitors every day. If your employees are properly trained and given the right equipment, and do things the right way every day, then you will always be ready. Remember to get a new set of eyes to look at your place every once in a while, because it is really easy to start accepting what you see every day as being acceptable when a consumer might say "yuck."