Before they ask about price, product quality or delivery schedules, customers ask poultry and meat companies about sustainability, according to C. Larry Pope, president and CEO of Smithfield Foods Inc. He told an audience at the 2010 International Poultry Expo and International Feed Expo that sustainability goes beyond environmental programs to include animal welfare, antibiotic and drug usage policies, product traceability, worker safety, food safety systems and even financial stability of the company.
Pope’s talk was part of the exposition’s Animal Agriculture Sustainability Summit. Pope said that the animal agriculture industry needs to listen to and engage with the groups attacking it. He challenged every industry member to make two visits to a community group or school to dispel misconceptions. “We need to educate all of the groups that challenge our practices,” he said.
Smithfield learned about engaging its critics about a decade ago after it was forced to pay a $12.5 million fine because of a Clean Water Act lawsuit, Pope said. Smithfield subsequently hired the suit’s plaintiff, Dennis Treacy, to head up the company’s environmental programs.
Suzy Freidman of the Environmental Defense Fund, who also spoke at the summit, echoed the sentiment of collaborating with groups that raise concerns. Collaboration can lead to solutions that are both economical and yield environmental improvements, she added.
But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency seems to be moving away from the collaborative model, said summit speaker Christian Richter of The Policy Group Inc. He said the EPA is shifting personnel from cooperative voluntary programs to enforcement programs in a move he called “hyper command and control mode.”