While there’s plenty in the poultry landscape worthy of attention, it’s evident to me after a year serving as editor of WATT PoultryUSA that the biggest long-range challenge the industry faces is slower-growing broilers.

Learning from cage-free

Before I moved into this role, I covered the egg industry. I see a key lesson from that industry’s difficulties with the cage-free phenomenon: It only takes one big decision to change an entire industry.

For egg farmers, that moment was McDonald’s 2015 pledge to serve only cage-free eggs in the U.S. and Canada by 2025. In short order, almost all of its competitors took a similar stance on cage-free, forcing the country’s egg producing infrastructure to change.

Rather than popular demand, the motivation behind cage-free was a handful of animal activist groups. Those pressured by the groups, via lobbying or threats, chose to give in rather than face more abuse. Now, the egg industry is saddled with a more expensive cage-free product that shoppers don’t actually want and is wondering what future exists for the conventional egg.

Stay vigilant

So far, the broiler growth rate issue isn’t moving the needle quite like the cage free issue did. That’s not to say slower-growing proponents are ineffective. The Global Animal Partnership’s welfare standards feature a daily weight gain stipulation for broilers and counts a number of culturally important adherents. But chicken growth rates aren’t at critical mass yet in the U.S.

Part of this, I believe, is the lack of consumer knowledge of, or interest in, the issue. Research published by Dr. Jayson Lusk in early 2018 showed people know little about the issue and aren’t willing to pay more for the attribute. The same study showed, however, people are open to suggestion and their views are influenced greatly by what they are told.

The egg experience and this research shows why the poultry industry must stay on the front foot on the issue. Keep up communication with those sitting around the table in the board rooms and dining rooms of the country while there’s still time. All it takes is one important decision to turn the tables.