INDIANAPOLIS — How much more will your bacon cost if hog farmers have to get ready for their close-ups?

“Some of these adjustments will come at a cost to the producer. What that cost is, is unclear at this time,” said Josh Trenary, executive director of Indiana Pork.

Trenary was responding to a letter sent by Tyson Foods on Jan. 9 to hog farmers who supply hogs to Tyson. That letter outlined a series of steps the company is taking toward its animal well-being program.

The steps include encouraging hog farmers to “improve housing for pregnant sows by focusing on the quality and quantity of space provided.”

Reconfiguring housing would include “urging all future sow barn construction or remodeling to allow for pregnant sows of all sizes to stand, lie down, stretch their legs and turn around,” Tyson said.

Steps Expected

That announcement didn’t come as a surprise to the industry.

Tyson said other measures include urging hog producers to discontinue the use of blunt force trauma to euthanize sick or injured piglets, urging hog farmers to use video monitoring in sow farms to monitor employees and activity within barns and supporting the use of pain mitigation for tail docking and castration of piglets.

The National Pork Board responded to the Tyson recommendations and said a major concern about at least one of the recommendations is the lack of approved drugs for pain mitigation in piglets.

“Currently there are no approved drugs for the use of pain mitigation in pig farming. We strongly encourage pig farmers to work with their herd veterinarian to explore options to comply with Tyson’s recommendation and to ensure all federal drug-use regulations are met appropriately under the Animal Medicinal Drug Use Clarification Act,” the pork board said in a statement about the Tyson Foods announcement.

The board also said that the video monitoring requirement should be part of an overall approach to welfare that includes training on barn culture.

“Video monitoring can be a useful tool in auditing animal welfare on U.S. pig farms. However, video monitoring, like in-person auditing, is only one component of providing and ensuring good animal care and can add significant cost to the farmer. Auditing and monitoring should be balanced with a comprehensive approach to animal welfare that includes caretaker training to positively affect human-animal interaction,” the board said.

A spokesman for the Iowa Pork Producers Association, Ron Birkenholz, said the video monitoring, the discontinuation of manual blunt force trauma to euthanize piglets and the pain mitigation requirement would be of “greater significance” to Tyson hog suppliers than the sow housing edict would be.

He said immediate action by farmers not contracted to Smithfield or Tyson to reconfigure housing isn’t likely.

“There hasn’t been much urgency among independent producers to convert, especially here in Iowa. The costs to retrofit barns would be enormous, and until the industry has some incentive to change, it will likely remain status quo,” Birkenholz said.

Smithfield ‘Recommendations’

Smithfield Foods, two days before the Tyson announcement, said it would “recommend” that all of its contract sow producers, including production subsidiary Murphy-Brown LLC, convert sow housing facilities to group housing.

“Growers who commit to convert to group housing will receive contract extensions upon completion of the conversion,” Smithfield said.

“We understand that animal care issues are becoming a give and take between what industry standards say are appropriate practices — vetted by science and experience — and what the consumer demands. This puts processors in the middle of the debate to try to develop standards that are still workable from an industry standpoint but can also pass muster in the court of public opinion,” Trenary said.

In its Jan. 9 “Daily Livestock Report,” sponsored by CME Group, pork industry analysts Steve Meyer and Len Steiner said a desire to respond to activist groups such as the Humane Society of the United States could have played a role in the Smithfield announcement. The Jan. 9 report was published prior to the release of the Tyson announcement.

“It is our belief that most of those decisions had more to do with getting activist groups like the Humane Society of the United States to stop bothering the companies than to an uprising of consumer consternation. That is not to say that no consumers are concerned about sow housing. Some are. But the ‘me too’ and ‘go away’ sentiments among foodservice and retail grocery companies have been major drivers in this process,” Meyer and Steiner said in the report.

Trenary said the industry needs to continue its efforts to educate and to show non-farming consumers what hog farmers do and why certain practices are necessary.

“The pork industry can continue to improve this dynamic by educating the public on what pork farmers do and why they do it,” he said.