Blog by Mack H. Graves

“Kick ’em when they’re up Kick ’em when they’re down” Don Henley – Dirty Laundry

It seems to be de rigueur within our meat and poultry industry to bash those who present new or alternative product claims or those who purport to monitor the actions of our industry.  A case in point is the recent blog by Hannah Thompson-Weeman and some of the comments to that blog regarding the Global Animal Partnership (acronym GAP) program.

Let me describe for you the genesis of GAP and my interaction and participation in that.

At the behest of their chairman and founder John Mackey, Whole Foods Markets (WFM) initiated an animal welfare and monitoring program for their protein suppliers.  WFM is a $15 billion natural and organic retail grocery outlet that Mackey and three others began in 1980 and drove from a single store in Austin, Texas to 456 stores in the US, Canada and UK by 2016.

At the time he spurred his company to initiate the first iteration of GAP in 2008, Mackey reportedly said he wanted to change animal agriculture to improve food animal welfare.  Thus began a program to develop standards of animal welfare for protein suppliers to WFM that became GAP and that subsequently became mandatory for any supplier.

It seems that anyone initiating something new in the meat and poultry industry is first looked at askance, ridiculed and then attacked.  I have often said that those who oppose any new idea go through five stages:

  1. Ignore it.
  2. Ridicule it.
  3. Attack it.
  4. Copy it.
  5. Claim it as their own.

As an example, Mel Coleman when he first offered “natural” beef for his customers was excoriated by the National Cattlemen’s Association (NCA) the progenitor of the current NCBA.  He was attacked at NCA meetings with shouts from other attendees that he was ruining the beef business.  He was asked what people would now think of the beef the rest of the industry was producing that was from cattle that were hormone implanted and fed sub therapeutic levels of antibiotics.

Another example of a contrarian who became an icon in the poultry industry was Frank Perdue.  He initiated a program of feeding xanthophyll to his chickens that caused them to develop a yellow skin, a distinct and unique appearance and marketing advantage.

When WFM first developed the GAP standards they reviewed them with some of their current protein suppliers.  I was CEO of one of those supplier-companies at the time and we and our cattle rancher partners met numerous times with the GAP representatives discussing with them which of their protocols would work and which wouldn’t.  We also suggested alternative animal welfare protocols which they accepted and made a part of their final protocol.  I can testify that GAP was developed with input from cattle ranchers as to what was practical and doable and what was not.

Certainly, there are other credible animal welfare certification programs not the least of which is Humane Farm Animal Care.  I served on the board of directors of HFAC at the request of its founder and manager Adele Douglass.  HFAC provides a service to help animals destined for the food chain to lead safe, humane lives.  Adele has done yeoman’s work in starting and nurturing HFAC in the face of criticism of her efforts.

Based on their positive contributions to our industry any criticism of either GAP or HFAC is and would be unfounded serving only to denigrate the accuser more than the accused.

Why is it that we seem so intent on attacking any new protein production or marketing program with unfounded, incendiary claims rather than embracing them as advancements?

Next we’ll see and hear objections to Oscar Mayer’s new no nitrate/nitrite hot dog.  Or, squawking about ConAgra’s new line of natural meat items.  Or, more complaints about the 21 out of 22 chicken companies revealing their new antibiotic free line of chickens.

Meat Your Markets Mack Graves
Mack Graves has worked in animal-food proteins for the past 39 years, specializing in corporate strategy, management focus and marketing effectiveness across the protein chain. In the final analysis there has to be a consumer demand and an economic incentive to all these new claims or they wouldn’t last.  Despite intra-industry complaining, these new methods and subsequent marketing claims are proving successful with the most important arbiter—the consumer.