There’s an old saying that “Trends start in California, then spread to the rest of the country.”
I guess that’s true if we’re talking about the Beach Boys, smartphones or boutique wineries as an upscale vacation destination.
Maybe not so much if it’s out-of-control wildfires, pervasive smog and the prospect of periodically trying to survive devastating earthquakes.
Realistically, though, when it comes to regulatory trends that affect animal agriculture and the meat and poultry industries, initiatives often arise in Europe before being seized upon by U.S. activists and entered onto their “To Do” lists.
Remember the genesis of “the precautionary principle” that emerged some 25 years ago? The proposal, promoted by Euro-activists opposed to the use of growth hormones and antibiotics (among many other issues), was that all food products and ingredients must be proven safe before being allowed on the market. In other words, processors would have to “prove” the proverbial negative, that products or ingredients don’t cause harm, especially over the long run, before they can be permitted in commerce.
In practice, that would mean that an ingredient or process would have to somehow demonstrate a lengthy track record of safety before it could be sold. The precautionary principle was the tactic used to block approval by the European Food Safety Authority of food ingredients derived from genetically engineered crops.
‘How do we know that 20 or 30 years from now there wouldn’t be unforeseen consequences from eating GMOs?’ activists asked. It is a standard that, if enforced, would effectively ban all genetically engineered crops.
That exact argument, of course, has been adopted by Greenpeace and a host of other U.S.-based advocacy groups to bolster their campaigns calling for the mandatory labeling of GMO foods, and eventually a ban on the technology itself.
Opposition Across the Board
And speaking of demanding labeling disclosures where none are needed, here’s yet another Euro-trend that can be expected to stir echoes among activists here in The States.
In the UK, animal welfare activists have launched a campaign to force the British government to introduce “compulsory method of production labeling” on all meat and dairy products sold in the UK.
According to the group, Compassion in World Farming, “Labels on intensively reared products frequently display misleading images of rolling landscapes and happy animals. This suggests that these animals have been farmed outdoors, when in reality they are crammed into barren cages, kept indoors all their lives, or kept in such close confinement, that they are unable to express their natural behaviours (sic).”
It might be easier to list something that the group supports — assuming they do have some positive ideas about how to produce food — but here’s a partial list of what they oppose, just to give you the lay of their land. As per the group’s website, they’re opposed to: industrial farming, pig barns, chicken coops, fish farming, foie gras, antibiotics, current slaughter practices, transporting farm animals, dairy farming and cloning.
So it’s not exactly an electric shock to find out that Compassion in World Farming wants “intensively farmed meat and dairy products” to be labeled as such, the idea being to somehow describe the “low welfare standards” involved in the production of such products.
“The truth isn’t advertised on food labels,” said Emma Slawinski, CIWF’s director of campaigns, “because it’s extremely hard to swallow.”
Pun intended, one presumes.
It isn’t exactly clear what language CIWF wants to be mandated for what would be, by their own calculations, more than 70% of all foods sold in the UK. The online petition the group is circulating stated only that the voluntary labeling scheme for eggs — which are labeled as “Caged, Barn, Free Range or Organic” in the UK — "should be extended to all meat and dairy products.”
This is one trend that can — and should — stay firmly put over on the other side of The Pond.
Editor’s Note: The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and commentator.