The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is having a busy week as it hit Hormel Foods’ annual meeting earlier this week and will attend Tyson Foods’ meeting on Friday. In each case HSUS is a company stockholder and in each case will challenge the pork producer/packer to end the use of gestation-sow stalls.  

This action follows HSUS’ release of an undercover video and news conference challenging Seaboard Foods and Prestage Farms also to end the use of gestation-sow stalls. HSUS owns shares in Seaboard.

An HSUS representative asked Jeff Ettinger, Hormel Foods president and chief executive officer, when Hormel would move away from the practice, as have many of its large corporate meat producing competitors.

Ettinger told the annual meeting attendees that the company would stop using gestation-sow stalls completely by 2017. The action will involve company production units in three states — Arizona, Colorado and Wyoming, and 54,000 breeding pigs. Gestation-sow stalls have been banned in eight states, including Arizona by 2012 and Colorado by 2017.

Those in Arizona will be phased out by 2013, and in Colorado and Wyoming by 2017, Ettinger said. According to Hormel’s website, the company started the group-housing transition in 2010, and by 2018 all of its own gestation sows will be group-housed.

Hormel purchases hogs from more than 775 independent pork producers, but company officials did not say whether it will ask those producers to follow suit.     

HSUS clearly wants to see the action expanded. “We thank Hormel for making this decision and urge the company to also apply it to any contract pig breeders it may use,” said Wayne Pacelle, HSUS president and chief executive officer. “We also urge Hormel’s competitors such as Tyson, Triumph, Prestage and Seaboard to stop lagging behind and get on the gestation-crate free pathway.”

In recent weeks, Smithfield Foods, of which HSUS also holds stock, announced a recommitment to phase out gestation-sow stalls by 2017. It’s estimated that Cargill has about 50 percent its gestation-sows out of stalls.

Moving on to Springdale, Ark., for its next shareholders’ meeting on Friday, HSUS will challenge Tyson officials about the company’s plans regarding gestation-sow stalls. HSUS says it will question company executives about “why it has no plans to end the extreme confinement of breeding pigs in its pork supply.”

Tyson downsized its hog production sector significantly in recent years and The Pork Group, a wholly owned subsidiary of the company produces finished hogs, feeder pigs and weaned pigs for sale to pork processors and finishers throughout the country, according to the company’s website. The Pork Group has an inventory of approximately 50,000 sows. Tyson Foods’ equity ownership of live hog operations represents less than 1 percent of its total pork production, purchasing the rest from independent producers.

Again, based on HSUS statements, it appears that they will ask the company to apply the no-gestation-stall standard to all producers supplying hogs to the packer. “Tyson allows pigs to be crammed into crates so small they can’t even turn around,” said Paul Shapiro, HSUS senior director of farm animal protection. “It’s time for Tyson to ensure gestation crates aren’t used in its supply chain.”

Increasingly HSUS is focusing its pressure on companies and brands versus individual farms or producers. For example, HSUS’ efforts against Seaboard and Prestage this week included pressure on Wal-Mart as Seaboard is a supplier. Companies protect brands at nearly all costs as the priority is to keep consumers satisfied and committed.  

HSUS touts the fact that brands such as Burger King, Wendy’s, Sonic, Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, Quiznos and Safeway have taken steps to increase purchases of gestation crate-free pork products. Other companies—like Whole Foods, Wolfgang Puck and Chipotle—don’t use any pork produced using gestation crates.