I just returned from giving at talk at the International Production and Processing Expo (IPPE) in Atlanta. According to the organizers, there were over 25,000 people in attendance from all aspects of the livestock, poultry, and egg production and processing industries. I don't think it would be much of an exaggeration (in fact it may be an under-estimation) to say that there were two football field sized halls full of exhibits.
While the expo was filled with lots of folks involved in livestock and meat production, I wish the "average" food consumer could have walked through the place (you can get a brief glance by checking out the video at the bottom of this page). What they would have seen is an overwhelming number of technological marvels designed to make meat and eggs safer, tastier, healthier, and less expensive. There were new insulated boxes to make shipping safer and more convenient, egg production facilities that were larger and provided more amenities for hens, automated technologies that keep workers from having to engage in some of the more unpleasant parts of the slaughter process, new medicines to improve animal health, technologies to improve worker health, new spices and flavors to improve taste, and on and on.
There are those who seem to want agribusiness and large farms out of agriculture. But, where do they think improvements in health, safety, and quality originate? I hear a lot about the need to improve transparency in agriculture. My advice to the event organizers for next year? Give out a slew of tickets to the general public. If the general public is more troubled than comforted by what they see, the meat industry really is doomed.
PETA has a video and exhibition featuring Paul McCartney called "glass walls." McCartney claims that if meat processing facilities had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian. There are thousands of years of human experience (during which the typical person was "closer" to animal agriculture) that would seem to contradict McCartney's claim. Although I could be wrong, I think a visit to something like the IPPE (and making the walls glass) would have exactly the opposite effect McCartney claims.