TULSA, Okla. (AP) — The years-long call by animal rights
groups to improve conditions on American hog farms advanced considerably when
two of the country’s biggest meat companies urged producers to change how
pregnant sows are housed, and one announced it wanted to stop the practice of
killing sick or injured animals by “manual blunt force.”
Tyson Foods sent new animal welfare guidelines to its 3,000
independent hog suppliers roughly six weeks after gruesome video from an
Oklahoma farm showed some animals being struck with bowling balls and others
being slammed onto a concrete floor. And Smithfield Foods announced it would ask
growers to move pregnant sows from gestation crates to group housing by 2022.
The change in corporate policy comes after decades of
lobbying and protests from animal rights groups and a trend that saw more food
retailers and restaurant chains moving away from suppliers who implemented the
controversial hog-raising practices on farms.
The planned overhaul was lauded by several animal rights
groups, some who had campaigned against gestation crates, which they deemed
institutionalized animal abuse and considered it an outdated and unnecessary
practice. “Gestation crates” are cramped, often-foul stalls that barely allow a
sow to take a step forward or backward and have been used for decades.
Tyson said it is urging pork producers to improve housing
conditions for gestating sows enough to allow sows of all sizes to stand, turn
around, lie down and stretch their legs.
Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson said the Arkansas-based
company hasn’t taken a position against any particular type of housing, but
wants producers to “improve housing systems for pregnant sows by focusing on
both the quality and quantity of space provided, whether it involves gestation
stalls, pens or some other type of housing.”
“We’re encouraging farmers to consider making these space
improvements when they or the piglet suppliers redesign or build new gestation
barns,” Mickelson told the Associated Press in an email.
Smithfield, the world’s largest pork producer, previously
had said it was phasing out gestation crates at its U.S. facilities by 2017. The
Virginia-based company has transitioned 54 percent of its pregnant sows to group
housing so far and said in a statement that “animal care is one of our core
sustainability commitments, and we are proud of our employee and company efforts
to meet this goal.”
Tyson also said it would require by the end of the year
farmers who manage company-owned sows to end the longstanding industry practice
of blunt-force euthanasia in favor of alternative methods in line with American
Veterinary Medical Association guidelines.
The Henryetta, Okla., operation in the video, West Coast
Farms, had raised hogs for Tyson until the company’s contract was dropped by the
meat producer after the footage surfaced. A number listed for the local farm has
since been disconnected.
The animal rights group Mercy For Animals released the video
in November. Founder and executive director Nathan Runkle said he was pleased
with Tyson’s decision to improve housing conditions for its hogs.
“We hope this announcement is more than PR hogwash and that
Tyson acts quickly and diligently to implement these changes in order to spare
millions of animals needless misery and suffering,” he said.
Other animal rights groups, such as the Humane Society of
the United States, lauded the changes by both companies as “a dramatic step
“There has been an exodus from a sector of the industry that
has relied on these crates as a conventional production practice — an inhumane
and unsustainable production practice,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of
the Humane Society.
He said the actions by Smithfield and Tyson “makes it
crystal clear that there is no future for gestation crates in the U.S.”
It’s difficult to determine whether these improvements will
eventually drive up the cost of pork. The price of the meat is affected by
myriad factors, such as feed, fuel costs, transportation expenses and wages,
“We can tell you consumer prices are set by retailers and
restaurants that sell directly to the consumer — not by Tyson Foods,” he said.
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