I am a consumer. I like to have choices and I am a certified meat-atarian. If you throw it on the grill I will eat it. Although I have never looked at a label when buying food for my family to enjoy, I do not belittle those that do. My farming background has given me the knowledge and the trust about what exactly my food is and exactly where it comes from. That is something that can’t be forced on someone who has never been on a farm, so consumer choice is paramount.
Lately, there has been a big hubbub about consumer choice and large food producing corporations are taking note. Just recently, companies like Dunkin Donuts, General Mills, Subway and even McDonald’s have all made major changes to items they produce and market because of some negative feedback about the additives, ingredients and meat they have on their menus.
And maybe the biggest corporate game-changing decision came from the Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus, who will be phasing out elephants from their shows due to animal rights groups causing a stir about the treatment of those elephants. We in ag have been there. There is no excuse for mistreating an animal and those cases are few and far between.
Just like farmers producing beef, pork and chicken, it seems as though the circus treats their animals with respect and care, knowing that with unhappy animals the show will not go on. According to the Ringling Brothers’ website:
Because animals are an integral part of what we present to our audiences, Ringling Bros.® provides the highest standards of care to our animal performers 365 days a year. Our staff consists of animal experts who devote their lives to living, working with and caring for animals. They meet the animals’ physical needs with nutritious foods and regular veterinary attention and their mental needs by providing a stimulating environment. In all aspects of animal care and safety, Ringling Bros. exceeds all federal animal welfare standards set by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) under the Animal Welfare Act.
So who exactly is making our consumer choices? Why is the staple of the circus being removed because of a handful of picket line forming, extremist group joining, and sign-waving folks? What about the hundreds of thousands of circus ticket buyers that walked right past those protestors and into “The Greatest Show on Earth”? Where is their voice?
It used to be that demand determined what the consumer truly wanted. The fact that circus shows were sold out, or that the meat case at the supermarket needed to be refilled was enough to know what the consumer was asking for. Now, that is not enough.
Today, whoever shouts the loudest gets the attention. Whether what is causing a raucous is fact-based or not simply doesn’t matter.
Those small groups that protest circuses, donut makers and food chains are getting victories that seem like a daily occurrence anymore. But for that minuscule number of people that win, a much larger group, the American consumer, is losing.
Just how concerned is the average consumer about the nation’s food supply? Earlier this year, according to The American Enterprise Institute, for the first time in history Americans spent more for their food in restaurants than they did at the grocery store. In 1992, Americans spent around $162 at the grocery store for every $100 they spent at restaurants. In January of 2015, consumers spent $50.475 billion in restaurants and $50.466 billion at the grocery store.
You know the one thing that restaurants and grocery stores don’t have in common? Labels.
Consumers trust the food industry so much that they don’t need to worry about what goes into making their meals. They aren’t concerned if the cow that made the steak they are munching on was previously munching GM corn. They know a quality product when they see and taste one because that quality has been set by farmers across the U.S. for generations.
Should consumers have a choice when it comes to food? Absolutely! But, if consumers don’t realize that their voice isn’t heard and their vote is not cast by the cha-ching of the register when they buy their food, their choices will soon be taken off of the table, just like the elephant that is no longer in the room.