Minn. ag chief surprised by swift reaction to video at Sparboe Farms of Litchfield, Minn.
LITCHFIELD -- Dave Frederickson said he has not seen the video depicting cruel treatment to chickens that has sent Litchfield-based Sparboe Farms into a business tailspin.
The Minnesota Commissioner of Agriculture said he has seen those same kinds of videos before and knows they are "repulsive" and "repugnant" and they don't depict the way consumers want to see animals raised in Minnesota.
But Frederickson said for every one incident of unacceptable treatment of animals, there are 99 examples of excellent livestock care on large-scale Minnesota farms that work hard to feed the country's big appetite for affordable food.
Frederickson said he was shocked that commercial giants McDonald's and Target ended contracts with Sparboe just hours after the video, filmed by an animal rights group, became public on Friday. Grocery stores have also pulled Sparboe eggs off the shelves.
"I thought the response was way too fast," said Frederickson, especially considering that food safety is not being questioned at Sparboe.
The company says their eggs have never tested positive for salmonella.
But Frederickson said consumers are looking very closely at how food is raised and producers "all need to learn something from that."
He said past research indicates consumers are willing to pay a few cents more for food that is locally grown, but at this point there aren't enough small-scale livestock farms to meet the need.
Frederickson said the video exposure could have a silver lining if it results in additional monitoring and positive changes in the entire poultry industry, but he said the fallout in the process could lead to a "horrible path of destruction" for a family-owned company that's "run a good business" for years.
Any economic impact on Sparboe could trickle down to host communities like Litchfield.
"We really try hard to put a good face on agriculture and it drives our economy out here," said Dee Schutte, executive director of the Litchfield Chamber of Commerce.
She's concerned that if Sparboe takes a financial hit, "we'll feel the economic impact in our community as well. It's just hard to know what that might look like."
Sparboe spokesman Chuck Sanger said Monday the company is finding markets for its eggs and is not planning any employee layoffs at this time, which should ease some concerns locally.
But the impact goes deeper than money.
Schutte said because Sparboe has been "such a prominent corporate presence in our community" since the company was begun in Litchfield 57 years ago by Bob Sparboe, the recent negative news has been difficult to watch and people in town are "feeling saddened."
She said the Chamber of Commerce sent Sparboe officials correspondence expressing sympathy and support as they respond to the public outcry and make difficult decisions for future changes.
"You just hurt for them," said Schutte.