Safeway latest company to pledge to rid supply chain of gestation crates

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.

Celebrating pigs

Yesterday was National Pig Day, a little known holiday, but a fun excuse to get to know our porcine neighbors a little better. Pigs are intelligent, sensitive animals who all too don’t get nearly enough recognition for their smarts.  Or their looks for that matter. In honor of National Pig Day, I thought I’d share a few facts about pigs.

  • Sows, female pigs, make excellent mothers. Melanie Joy and John Robbins write in Why we love dogs, eat pigs, and wear cows: An introduction to carnism, “Expectant mothers are extremely conscientious; they may wander for six miles to find the perfect spot to build a birthing nest, and then spend up to ten hours building it before settling in to care for their newborns.”
  •  Pigs might have a reputation for being filthy, but MSNBC says, “They are perhaps the smartest, cleanest domestic animals known – more so than cats and dogs, according to some experts. But pigs don’t have sweat glands, so they roll around in the mud to stay cool.”
  • Speaking of smarts, chimpanzees are known for their intelligence, but pigs? Pigs are able to solve problems that require that they understand relationships and rules. Here’s an example: Pigs were trained in cognition tests to move a cursor on a video screen with their snouts. They were tasked to use the cursor to differentiate scribbles on the screen that they had seen before and others that they were seeing for the first time. So who performed better? Pigs learned how to make the distinction just as quickly as our closest living relatives, the chimpanzees.

Pigs are also some of the worst abused animals in our society, especially mother pigs. In an effort to make more pork faster and cheaper, millions of breeding pigs are confined inside tiny crates so small the animals can’t even turn around for virtually their entire lives.

These intelligent, social animals are unable to walk, let alone perform many of their other most important natural behaviors. There’s a movement on the rise to improve life for pigs that would require a modicum of better treatment by producers who supply to some of the food industry’s biggest players. But with alternatives like Tofurky sausages, Soyrizo, and vegetarian “ham” slices, who needs to eat pigs?

Ag-gag laws: Keeping cruelty mum

Another investigation into a pig breeding facility was announced today. This time, D.C.-based Compassion Over Killing was the group behind the exposé. Among the group’s findings were:

  • Poorly performed castrations that resulted in herniated intestines
  • Workers pushing the herniated intestines back inside the piglets, then wrapping the area with tape
  • Countless sick or injured piglets left to suffer without veterinary care, many of whom later died
  • Sows languishing with uterine prolapses and later dying
  • Forced cannibalism: intestines from dead piglets are pulled out and turned into “gruel” to feed back to pigs
  • Layers of feces caked on the floor of crates and filthy, fly-infested conditions

The investigation revealed the routine suffering mother pigs endure when confined to cages where they can’t even turn around for months on end, like one whose hooves had become so overgrown she could hardly walk.

The type of footage COK documented is the very footage that animal agribusiness doesn’t want consumers to see. They know most people are horrified to see footage of intelligent, sensitive animals lined up like parked cars and unable to engage in important natural behaviors. That’s why several states now have introduced so-called “ag-gag” laws.

Ag-gag laws proposed in Iowa, where the COK investigation was conducted, as well as Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, and most recently Utah would make it a crime to take photos or videos of a farm without permission from the owners. Some of the bills would even make it illegal to possess the video footage.

Undercover investigations done by groups like The Humane Society of the United States have resulted in findings that have helped curb potential threats to public health. For example, one investigation The HSUS conducted at a slaughter plant that provided meat to the USDA school lunch program documented workers shoving, kicking, and even using a forklift to try to get former dairy cows who were too sick or injured to stand up to walk to their deaths. This spurred the largest meat recall in U.S. history and led to a new federal policy banning the slaughter of “downer” cows.

The bills are opposed by animal welfare, food safety, workers’ rights, and constitutional rights organization. Who supports them? The people who don’t want you to see where your meat, milk, and eggs come from.

Check out this map of undercover investigations and ag-gag laws from AnimalVisuals.org. If you live in a state where ag-gag laws have been proposed, contact your legislators and ask them to protect animals and food safety by voting against the bills.