Minnesota-based agricultural giant Cargill has announced that it will give pigs room to turn around by eliminating the use of gestation crates.
Cargill, which is the largest private corporation in the United States, said that it would commit to converting its sow operations to group housing for its company-owned farms by 2015 and for its contract operations by 2017.
Paul Shapiro, Vice President of Farm Animal Protection at The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), responded to the announcement by saying that “Cargill’s decision brings us closer to the day when gestation crates will be relics of the past in the pork industry. Americans simply don’t support locking animals in cages barely larger than their bodies, and Cargill is right to be leading its industry away from the practice.”
Pressure from clients and consumers led Cargill to acknowledge that it needed to make changes.
“Over the past two years, many of our retail, foodservice and food processing customers have made decisions about future sourcing of pork products from suppliers that use group housing for gestating sows,” Mike Luker, president of Wichita-based Cargill Pork, said in a media statement. “While Cargill was a pioneer in the use of group housing for gestating sows dating back more than a decade, in the past few years growing public interest in the welfare related to animals raised for food has been expressed to our customers and the pork industry.”
“Confining an animal for most of its life in a box in which it is not able to turn around does not provide a decent life…We’ve got to treat animals right, and gestation stalls have got to go,” said pork industry advisor Dr. Temple Grandin.
Sixty major global food retailers, including McDonald’s, Costco, Burger King, Kraft Foods, Kroger, Cracker Barrel, and others, have said that they will eliminate their purchases of pork from producers who rely on gestation crates.
Additionally, Smithfield Foods and Hormel announced their plans to further shift away from gestation crates, and meat giant Tyson Foods have stated that “future sow housing” should allow animals to turn around. Major Canadian producers like Olymel and Maple Leaf have also made similar announcements.
After decades of subjecting pigs to tiny cramped cages where they could not even turn around, nine American states, governments and industry groups in Australia, Canada, South Africa, and India have recently committed to move away from gestation crates. The European Union is already in the process of implementing a ban on continual confinement in gestation crates and working to assure compliance among all twenty-eight nations.
Although any improvement is welcome news, the fact is that the pigs have now been granted a few extra feet of space while they are waiting for the sharp blade to take their lives, and those of their children and loved ones. They will still watch in horror as those before them are killed, so that their bodies can grace people’s dinner plates. There are still so many more changes that need to be made, but for now at least the pigs can turn around.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons: courtesy of The Humane Society of the United States