Gestation crates have come under a lot of fire in recent months. These crates are used to confine mother pigs for the duration of their pregnancies, which last four months. They’re put into another crate, a farrowing crate, to give birth, then are placed back into a gestation crate, the cycle repeating itself for about four years.
Since February of this year, company after company after company has publicly distanced itself from these cruel contraptions, from a variety of sectors ranging from restaurant to retailer to manufacturer to food service provider. Today alone both Costco and Sears (parent company of Kmart) announced they would rid their supply chains of pork produced using gestation crates.
While the list of companies that have enacted policies on this issue reads like a who’s who of the world’s largest food companies (McDonald’s, Burger King, Kroger, Kraft, and Safeway to name just a few), there are still a number of companies that are dragging their heels.
Animal protection organization Mercy For Animals released the results of an undercover investigation today revealing cruelty and abuse at a Christensen Farms, which supplies Walmart, one such company that has failed to take a position on gestation crates.
The investigation conducted on a farm in Hanska, Minnesota documented:
The routine suffering of mother pigs confined in filthy crates so small they can’t even turn around. Many of the pigs exhibited stereotypical behaviors like banging their heads against the bars of their cages and repeatedly chewing on the cage bars as a result of stress and boredom;
Castration and tail-docking of fully-conscious piglets without any painkiller;
Injured animals with untreated wounds left to suffer; and
Workers “thumping” piglets—slamming them to the ground—to slowly die.
Today Lebanon, Tennessee-based Cracker Barrel, known for its rocking chairs and meat-heavy menu, announced that it is joining a laundry list of companies in getting gestation crates out of its supply chain. In the last four months, there has been a groundswell of support for a move towards group housing of breeding pigs–not pig paradise, but bounds better than the iron maidens most of them are currently confined in. Just last week McDonald’s announced it is setting a ten year timeline for its phase-out. And the week prior, Kroger, the nation’s largest grocery chain called on its suppliers to accelerate their transition away from these cruel contraptions.
Animal protectionists have made more progress in this area faster than perhaps any issue in recent memory. Yet there are still some companies that are still digging in their heels refusing to recognize the writing on the wall. In March Marlys Miller, editor of Pork Magazinewrote, “The past six weeks or so has brought a flurry of activity and negative attention to the pork industry. Now, you can trot out arguments citing experience, logic, scientific reasoning, even a commitment to provide safe, nutritious, affordable food to your fellow man, but on the issue of gestation-sow stalls, at least, it’s increasingly apparent that you will lose the battle.” And meat industry trade journal, Meatingplace,editorialized, “Game over. For any pork producer still on the fence, the McDonald’s announcement makes the move inevitable, whether or not they are a McD’s supplier.”
Pork suppliers, restaurants, manufacturers and retailers should heed those peers’ sentiments. Be it due to science, the law, or as a result of consumer sentiment, it’s clear that gestation crates are on their way out.
It seems that every week another company announces that it’s working to get gestation crates out of its supply chain. This week is no different. Today Denny’s, the family diner that’s always open – and known for its ham and bacon-heavy breakfasts announced that it is working with its suppliers to end the use of gestation crates within its supply chain.
With announcements like this coming out regularly—first Compass Group, followed by McDonalds, Wendy’s, Burger King, and Safeway last week, it might seem like everyone’s getting on board. That’s a good thing when you consider the extent of suffering the some 6 million U.S. breeding pigs endure when confined in crates so small they can’t even turn around.
It’s a common sense move that’s good for animals and as industry publications are reporting, it’s a viable move for agribusiness as well. A recent article in Feedstuffs was titled, “Group sow housing can work.” Where there’s a will there’s a way and responsible businesses are proving that if they’re really concerned about doing the right thing, they’ll find a way. Congrats to Denny’s for being in that camp.
I’m just returning from Little Rock, Ark. where I helped with a press conference for The Humane Society of the United States in which the organization released the results of an undercover investigation into a pig breeding facility. The facility, Wyoming Premium Farms, is located in Wheatland, Wyo.
Acting on a whistleblower tip alleging abuse, the investigator documented the routine suffering endured by breeding pigs when confined in gestation crates. Captured on film were highly intelligent mother pigs confined in tiny, cramped cages barely larger than their own bodies. The pigs bobbed and swayed, chewed the bars of their crates, and suffered painful open wounds as a result of rubbing up against the cage bars—all out of severe boredom and frustration.
In addition to this routine suffering, the investigator documented acts of abject cruelty, like workers tossing baby piglets through the air, swinging them around by their back legs, and slamming them into the sides of the cages. Also filmed were lame pigs who suffered painful crippling injuries being tormented to walk to their own deaths, pigs with untreated wounds like uterine and anal prolapses caused by their unnatural repeated birthing cycle, and piglets who, having been born while their mothers were confined in the gestation crates, became impaled on the slats of the wood floor and died a slow death suspended over the manure pit.
This farm supplies Heinhold, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Arkansas-based Tyson Foods, which is the country’s second-largest meat company and which refuses to respond to consumer demand and rid its supply chain of gestation crates. While the company denies that the animals documented undergoing abuse at the hands of workers at Wyoming Premium Farms will make their way into Tyson’s supply chain, it’s inarguable that the company still supports—even defends—the use of gestation crates. As the video demonstrates, they’re clearly indefensible. Let’s hope this video turns the heat on Tyson to get out of the business of confining pigs in gestation crates.
You can take action to urge the company to do so via this action alert from The Humane Society of the United States.
This morning Pleasanton, Calif.-based Safeway, the second largest grocery store chain in North America announced it will eliminate the sale of all pork produced using gestation crates. Safeway’s commitment represents the first such commitment made by a mainstream retailer and with a reach of 1,694 stores it has the potential to have tremendous impacts on the pork industry and how it raises its mother pigs. The announcement has already received praise from The Humane Society of the United States and is getting media attention in mainstream and industry trade press, which is sure to create more consumer demand and more pressure for other grocers to follow suit.
Gestation crates are on the hot seat these days with other major retail companies that have made announcements to phase them out, including McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s. Notable about Safeway’s announcement is that it includes the sale of all pork (including grocery items that contain pork: think Lunchables, hot dogs, and Hot Pockets) from supply chain systems using gestation crates.
If you consider the suffering involved in confining animals in crates so small they can’t even turn around; can’t even engage in some of their most important natural behaviors, it’s obvious that it’s the right thing to do. Yet it takes a company truly committed to doing the right thing to make a bold move for this kind of change happen. Congratulations to Safeway for being a leader and may many of its competitors follow suit.