Last week, Mark Bittman published the New York Times column “A Food Manifesto for the Future,” in which he proposed ways to “make the growing, preparation and consumption of food healthier, saner, more productive, less damaging and more enduring.” Among his suggestions was outlawing concentrated animal feeding operations, so it wasn’t surprising to see a letter to the editor from Randy Spronk, Chairman of the Environment Committee of the National Pork Producers Council in the Times a few days later (hat tip to Maryn McKenna’s Twitter feed). It’s interesting to see how Spronk responded to Bittman’s criticism of CAFOs’ environmental impact:
Yes, there were a couple of highly publicized manure spills involving hog farms in the mid-1990s. But pork producers have made changes to assure that they won’t be repeated. If they are, producers are subject to fines up to $37,500 per day under tough new federal regulations.
See what Spronk’s doing? He’s using the existence of federal regulation to argue that we should feel good about pork production. And he’s right. If the public is concerned about the direct or indirect health and safety impacts of a product, they’ll probably buy less of it. There are other ways regulation can help businesses (for instance, by leveling the playing field between companies that are investing in safe practices and those that are cutting costs by producing dangerously), but regulation’s ability to increase consumer confidence may be the benefit industry groups like the National Pork Producers Council appreciate the most.
I’m sure the NPPC will continue to have differences of opinion with public health advocates regarding the extent to which CAFOs need to be regulated, but they seem to understand that some regulation can be good for their business. Personally, I don’t think our regulatory system has done nearly enough to address CAFOs’ effects on air and water quality, antimicrobial resistance, greenhouse-gas emissions, or the health of communities and workers, and that’s why I don’t eat meat.
So, as the Obama administration advances the erroneous assumption that regulations must cost jobs, it’s important to remember that regulation can be good for business. Even the National Council of Pork Producers agrees.