If ever it needed to be shown that it is no longer possible for business to hold out against the tide of reform, further proof was provided last Friday night in the form of a popular network news program. Over the past seven months I have been involved in the implementation of an unprecedented agreement worked out between the commercial egg industry and the Humane Society of the United States supporting the enactment of sweeping new federal requirements for cage sizes and more humane treatment of egg-laying hens. The one major company that did not join the 248 other egg farming operations that supported the proposed legislation, Sparboe Farms, got its comeuppance on Friday night when ABC’s 20/20 did an expose on the animal rights abuses taking place at some of its operations. Within 24 hours of the word getting out that this report was going to air, two of its largest customers, McDonald’s and Target, announced they would no longer use Sparboe as a supplier, representing a loss of almost two-thirds of its business.
Now, while I do feel sorry for all the innocent people who will probably lose their jobs as a result, this is a positive example of the new world order of transparency, honesty and doing the right thing. Where Sparboe Farms was concerned, fighting the terms of the agreement, which called for doubling and in certain cases almost tripling the amount of space allocated to the birds, was definitely not a wise choice, and it could end up costing them their entire company.
There are lessons for all industries to learn from – but the main one is that ”being on the side of the angels” is no longer an option we can take or leave (if it ever was), and that failing to do so can leave a company with a lot of egg on its face.
Congratulations also to those 248 members of the United Egg Producers for being so proactive and working with, rather than opposing HSUS. Now they will become the beneficiaries of the business Sparboe Farms has lost through its stubborn refusal to be a “good egg.”