Street Talk

Pork farmers are thinking out of the box

In a bind(er).

October 20, 2012
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A nationally organized protest against pork sold in Wal-Mart stores was seen in West Michigan last week when Mercy For Animals held a peaceful demonstration near the Alpine Avenue Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart is accused of buying pork from farmers who confine pregnant sows in small cages for long periods of time.

In response to an inquiry from the Business Journal, Wal-Mart headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., replied with an e-mail stating it is “a complicated issue and there are different points of view. We currently offer gestation crate-free products in a number of stores across the U.S. and will continue our ongoing discussions with suppliers, non-government organizations and food safety experts to increase that number. We hold our suppliers to the highest standards and do not tolerate animal mistreatment.”

Wal-Mart also suggested people could get more information from the National Pork Board.

We contacted instead Mary Kelpinski, executive director of the Michigan Pork Producers Association in East Lansing.

“As far as animal care, farmers have a moral obligation to care for their animals,” wrote Kelpinski. “Their pigs are their livelihood, so it just makes good sense to take the best care of them we possibly can — and most importantly it’s the right thing to do. Through the years farmers have always worked to make the environment better and safer for both the animals and the people that work with them. Most farmers today have moved their pigs into barns to protect their health and safety. These barns allow farmers to provide for each pig’s individual needs, ensuring a more constant level of care and nutrition. For example, feed and water can be carefully monitored to meet each pig’s growth and development. Animals in barns are also protected from the weather and predators.”

Kelpinski digressed with a comment about public perceptions of farming.

“What we have found is that most people are several generations removed from food production and they do not understand how farmers raise food. When they think about farming, they tend to think of a big red barn and, just like every aspect of our lives, farming has changed. With an estimated world population of 9.3 billion people on the planet by 2050, we need to figure out a way to produce more food more economically. Farmers and pork producers in particular have figured out a way to do that while using less land, less water and reducing their carbon footprint.”

“Thank you very much for contacting us to get the farmers’ side of the story,” she added.

Another ‘side’ to the story

Including all aspects or “sides” of a story is the mark of good journalism and the mission of every story to ensure readers are fully informed. Public relations professionals are vigilantes for such work, even if they prefer a particular sentence to be worded “constructively” for their client.

The West Michigan chapter of the Public Relations Society of America last week held its annual Meet the Media session featuring one-on-one opportunities for PR professionals to “get the word out” on behalf of clients.

Managing editors Tim Gortsema and Marty Primeau, of the Business Journal and Grand Rapids Magazine, respectively, each met with approximately 20 PR pros.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the Business Journal editors considered one such turn of events from Spectrum Health and the SH Medical Group, given voice by PR pro Bruce Rossman, who was concerned a story in the Oct. 9 Business Journal gave readers the wrong idea. The article “Are independent doctors an endangered species?” gave voice to independent physicians and others in the region who express concern they may be an “endangered species” as entities such as Spectrum and Advantage Health/Saint Mary’s (Mercy Health) Medical Group increasingly employ previously independent physicians in large group practices and alliances.

The Business Journal reported from a taped conversation and later e-mail from Dr. Ken Fawcett, chief medical officer for SHMG. (The detailed e-mail of four sentences containing no fewer than 26 words and no more than 68 words went under the editing knife.)

A discrepancy came down to 12 words: Dr. Fawcett was emphasizing that SHMG monitors referrals by its staff physicians “not so as to have conversations about changing these referral patterns, but instead to identify opportunities with respect to perceived gaps in the quality of care or the patient experience so that we can improve our own performance to better meet the needs and expectations of our patients and providers alike.” Not to identify physicians SHMG may want to add to staff.

In a nutshell: Rossman said, “We are very sensitive about this.”

40-40 vision

The Business Journal’s 40 Under Forty affair Tuesday night at Goei Center was a smashing success and included plenty of “ha-ha” moments. Here are a few “outtakes” that highlighted the celebration of West Michigan’s young leaders:

  • Ralston Bowles’impromptu tribute to “the 40s” during his performance. The ad-libbed song brought cheers from honorees seated near stage.
  • 40/40 judge Don Taylor, coordinator of the University of Michigan-Urban Land Institute real estate forum and a gentleman a bit north of 40, revealing he’s really “only 17” due to his Leap Day birthday.
  • Dana Blinder, marketing coordinator for Gemini Publications and the unlucky soul charged with reading off the winners’ names, filling time while people made their way forward to the stage: “Looks like all the cool kids are sitting in the back tonight.”
  • When Bridget Clark Whitney headed forward to receive her award, the executive director of Kids’ Food Basket was encouraged with the loudest shout-out of the night: “Feed those kids!” We suspect it came from the camp of Jermone Glenn, senior pastor at Revolution Christian Ministries. The reverend brought the largest contingent to the celebration and kept things hopping.
  • The “Twitter TVs” posted throughout the venue brought the celebration to the outside world and provided interesting interaction. GVSU student Nate Geers tweeted that those in attendance were missing an interesting speech from venture capital guru Mike Jandernoa at the downtown campus, to which @grbj basically responded, “Yeah, but are you getting an awesome free concert from Ralston Bowles?” To be fair, Business Journal reporter Mike Nichols was assigned to cover Jandernoa’s speech (see his report on grbj.com) and thereby missed the 40/40 event. Come to think of it, Mike probably got one of the students to send that tweet!

Looking for binders of women?

The Business Journal has them. As the publication enters the final two weeks of nominations for recognition of the Top Women Owned Businesses in the West Michigan region, we couldn’t help but note the commentary coming from the last presidential debate: It’s a good thing that conversation puts a strong focus on women leaders, particularly in business. The Business Journal alternates its recognition of business owners with its Most Influential Women event, and both (since 1997) are motivated to assist especially regional businesses in identifying strong female board of director candidates. The two companies most embracing the diversification with more than one or two directors are Amerikam and Spartan Stores.

Inforum Center for Leadership is working to assure more area women are well prepared for such positions and held one of its first four-hour sessions devoted to governance and regulations. Of note were the number of C-suite women and women business owners in the audience.

Any questions, Fred Bauer?

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