Commentary: The cost of activism
The rebound from reform
That’s the unknown dynamic underlying the emergence of direct consumer activism through online and social media: Could changes related to environmental and animal welfare issue cause sufficient sticker shock for consumers to re-think their headlong rush to “reform” industrial agriculture?
I believe they could.
Right now, the price tag for voting to ban gestation stalls, for example, is non-existent. Such measures have passed in states with no significant production, or with a built-in delay that puts years between the enactment of the measure and the eventual impact on production and thus food prices. It doesn’t require much thought to decide that cages, stalls and other confinement systems should be eliminated if you’re convinced it won’t affect your weekly food budget.
But if the leverage of social media helps spur a continuing wave of regulatory changes that impact efficiency, two results are almost guaranteed: The first is outsourcing of production, whether to other states or foreign countries, which in either case not only deprives the very residents who voted for what they thought were consequence-free, feel-good improvements to food production of local and regional economic activity but penalizes them where it hurts the most: at the checkout line.
The second is a relentless rise in cost.
It may take years to accumulate enough on-the-ground data to allow consumers to connect the dots between stricter regulation of food production and an inevitable rise in prices, but if trends continue as they are, such an outcome is not at all far-fetched.
That might provide some grim satisfaction to the many industry voices who have been valiantly arguing that food production efficiency isn’t something evil, but it will comes at a cost the rest of won’t be too happy about paying.
Dan Murphy is a food-industry journalist and commentator