Defending Egg Farmers
I have never been known for defending supply management and its institutions.
However, the episode of W5 on Sunday, October 20 has me boiling because of its unfairness and extraordinary bias.
For those who did not see it, the episode focused on a film that was presented to W5 by an animal rights group purporting to show practices on an egg farm in Alberta. They were quite horrific and I will never defend something as stupid, shortsighted, and downright deplorable as what was shown. If they occur on that farm, it should have a very short period of time during which to clean up its act or lose their license to produce.
At the same time, this was a disgusting and shoddy piece of journalism. As I watched, it became very clear why no one wanted to cooperate with the show’s producers. There were two major issues.
First, W5 made a big deal out of the fact that neither the Egg Farmers of Alberta nor the Egg Farmers of Canada would talk to them on the record and, toward the end, refused to talk to W5 at all.
I don’t blame them. Animal rights groups have a history around the ways they report on farm practices. One of their favorite tactics is to edit tapes. W5 met with the egg producers and showed them the tape. The egg producers said they would investigate and asked for a copy of the tape. Not only did W5 not give them a copy of the tape, but declined to even address the request, at least on what was shown. Without the possibility of examining the tape, how do we know where this behavior occurred? Obviously it did occur, but was it on the farm in question? Was it real or was it staged? How can anyone know if W5 refuses to allow the tape to be part of the investigation?
Even if the behavior did occur on that farm, my second issue with W5’s portrayal is even more appalling. Throughout the entire program the commentator used the word “farms” rather than “farm”. In other words, he extended the behavior in the film to all egg farms with cages. My undergraduate statistics courses pretty clearly proved that there is absolutely no statistical significance to a sample of one: it is not possible, and in this case is quite unethical, to accuse an entire industry and nearly everyone in it of behaving exactly the same as one member. Even if these behaviors were done on the farm in question, it has nothing to do with what happens on other farms.
The show brought up some good points. Obviously, the behavior with respect to the chickens should be outlawed. The show also brought out the obvious flaw in our systems in Canada that codes of practice on farms are usually voluntary with no enforcement. That is a problem. But when I see this kind of sordid sensationalism on something I know a little bit about, it makes me question everything that W5 does.
Maybe it’s time for W5 to do an exposé on W5.
Commentary written by Dr. Larry Martin
Larry Martin is currently a principal in Agri-Food Management Excellence, Inc. providers of management programs for agri-food and Dr. Larry Martin & Associates, a consulting operation. He teaches and coaches managers of farms, agribusiness and food companies from both Canada and the United States. He also writes and consults on agri-food policy, commodity markets and strategy. He has worked with a wide array of companies and organizations in developing their strategic and operational, and/or risk management plans. For more information about programs offered by AME, visit agrifoodtraining.com.