Commentary: Gestation stalls now lead HSUS' list

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It’s no secret that animal activists have had gestation-sow crates on their list of things to eliminate for some time. The issue has been smoldering with periodic sparks fueled by such things as undercover videos like the ones that surfaced a week ago.

While the pork industry addressed the potential threat by conducting scientific research and looking for answers to sow housing, one could argue that there’s been some disbelief associated with the issue. This is partly because producers rely on science as a guide and there is no clear-cut direction on gestation-sow stalls. It’s also partly because producers honor freedom of choice and one’s ability to manage a system—“what works for you, may not work for me.” And it’s partly because they didn’t really believe the activists would get serious traction to make decisions on the farm.

Besides, the chicken sector—specifically battery cages-- have long topped the activists’ list of things to address. Of course that has now changed, with the Humane Society of the United States and the United Egg Producers working cooperatively, not just to change housing for egg-laying hens but to make it a federal law.

That means gestation-sow stalls have moved to the top of the activists’ list.

Consider the fact that last week HSUS not only turned its cameras on Seaboard Foods’ and Prestage Farms’ sow facilities, it then took up its stockholder positions at Tyson Foods and Hormel Foods, calling for changes in sow housing there. That follows similar action taken late last year at Smithfield Foods’ annual meeting.

Animal activists are well organized, well funded and relentless, and it doesn’t take as long to motivate action on an issue like it once did, whether that involves consumers, lawmakers or companies.

We’ve heard Temple Grandin, Colorado State University animal well-being expert, explain that consumers are generally okay with farrowing stalls because they protect baby pigs, but that gestation-stalls seem extreme.  It’s too small a space for too long a time and it propagates a stall-to-stall-to-stall cycle, the thinking goes.

These are the same people who would treat a pregnant cat or dog with kid-gloves, yet believe pregnant sows should be housed in pens where they have to compete with others for food, water and a naturally programmed drive for group hierarchy.

But logic won’t hold the trump card here, emotion will, and the fact that some producers are signed on to accommodate the activists’ pressures. HSUS is quick to point out that “eight states have outlawed” gestation-sow stalls. Food companies like Chipotle and Wolfgang Puck have agreed not to buy product from pork producers who use gestation-sow crates. Burger King, Wendy’s, Sonic, Carl’s Jr., Hardee’s, Quiznos and Safeway have taken steps to increase purchases of pork products from producers who don’t use gestation-sow stalls. Smithfield Foods, Hormel Foods and Cargill have agreed to work toward eliminating gestation-sow stalls within their production systems, most by 2017.

HSUS has zeroed in on brands and that will make all the difference in the world. It takes a company too much time and money to build a brand to let another entity damage it. Wal-Mart was included in HSUS’ undercover video release last week because Seaboard is a supplier. Never mind that the video didn’t show abuse, rather images were out of context and without explanation. But a consumer wouldn’t know how to fill accurate details and there’s a vast difference between reality and perception. 

As Wal-Mart continues to build its image as a wholesome, low-cost food provider with consumers’ best interests in mind, it will not risk association with what consumers perceive to be questionable practices. Pork producers need to step up their pace in considering consumers’ perceptions and addressing on-farm practices proactively. I don’t mean using PQA Plus or We Care as the shield—both are good programs. But the pork sector needs to have serious conversations about which practices you can change and which ones you can live without.

Because if gestation-sow stalls are at the top of the list now, and the HSUS/UEP federal housing legislation passes, pork production is next on that list too.

 


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Terry Ward    
Pa.  |  February, 10, 2012 at 05:39 AM

Gene Gregory, president of United Egg Producers: ""I've found him to be a man of his word," Gregory says, speaking about the Humane Society president Wayne Pacelle. It doesn't have to be his way or no way. And he's not trying to eliminate our business, or anybody's in animal agriculture. He just wants to see improvements made." http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2012/02/10/146635596/how-two-bitter-adversaries-hatched-a-plan-to-change-the-egg-business?ps=cprs

Rob Ellis    
Taylors Bridge  |  February, 10, 2012 at 06:23 AM

As long as the government is willing to buy all the food who cares what it cost? They can continue to create regulations that increase their own procurement cost as they seek to supply those whose substinence is provided by government assistance....full circle baby

Cynthia Marshall    
Colorado  |  February, 10, 2012 at 08:54 AM

Regarding gestation-sow crates. I am a meat eater, however I do not eat pork because of how sows are treated. Who in their right mind would think these crates are ok? The animals can't even turn around. Really! Give them more room!

Jerry Darnall    
Washington State  |  February, 10, 2012 at 09:11 AM

Cynthia: There are thousands of smaller farms raising pigs without crates and, God forbid, with full access to pasture, and free range outside fresh air & sunshine. There is no reason to forgo pork, just find a farmer that meets your expectation for humane raising of the animals, and purchase from them. Know your food, Know your farmer.

wolfgang planz    
greensboro,nc  |  February, 10, 2012 at 09:59 AM

" Gestation Crates have got to go !" Temple Grandin http://www.thepigsite.com/articles/2672/changing-from-sow-gestation-crates-to-pens-problem-or-opportunity

Ron Pulley    
Wyoming  |  February, 10, 2012 at 10:35 AM

Everyone who raises animals should be aware of the basic needs of the animal. Run a humane operation. Allow the animals to have the proper life. They should be raised in such a way that whoever visits your farm, whenever they visit your farm, will see the animals living the proper lifestyle. No stockman should ever be concerned it s wants to take a picture of their operation, since they know they are doing everything correct. The stockman should be proud to see their animals outside, enjoying the fresh air and sunshine, knowing there is a warm, dry space to sleep inside when necessary. One of the Animal Welfare Institute's basic freedoms is the freedom to express normal behavior. When animals are well fed, with clean water, a shelter to protect them from the elements and the ability to express their normal behaviors, they will be profitable for the stockman. It is only smart to raise animals properly. Besides, society and economics will dictate this since more and more people will only consume products that are raised properly. Stop whinning about rules and regulations and raise the animals correctly and you will not only make more money, but you just might end up being a better person.

Ron Pulley    
Wyoming  |  February, 10, 2012 at 10:35 AM

Everyone who raises animals should be aware of the basic needs of the animal. Run a humane operation. Allow the animals to have the proper life. They should be raised in such a way that whoever visits your farm, whenever they visit your farm, will see the animals living the proper lifestyle. No stockman should ever be concerned it s wants to take a picture of their operation, since they know they are doing everything correct. The stockman should be proud to see their animals outside, enjoying the fresh air and sunshine, knowing there is a warm, dry space to sleep inside when necessary. One of the Animal Welfare Institute's basic freedoms is the freedom to express normal behavior. When animals are well fed, with clean water, a shelter to protect them from the elements and the ability to express their normal behaviors, they will be profitable for the stockman. It is only smart to raise animals properly. Besides, society and economics will dictate this since more and more people will only consume products that are raised properly. Stop whinning about rules and regulations and raise the animals correctly and you will not only make more money, but you just might end up being a better person.

Joan    
Abingdon, Virginia  |  February, 10, 2012 at 12:34 PM

The way these pigs are kept is unacceptable and I no longer eat them because of this. They are intelligent, sensitive animals and being kept in crates so small they can't turn around is horrid, horrid abuse.

Rob Ellis    
Taylors Bridge  |  February, 10, 2012 at 01:58 PM

Animals shouldn't fight. They shouldn't have to live in the wild and be attacked by other animals. Animals that are confined should be allowed to fight and become injured and then be treated for injuries.

Brian Shapiro    
Woodstock, NY  |  February, 10, 2012 at 06:13 PM

Arguments on this page comparing the life of sows in a gestation crate to that of "a dog or cat living in an apartment in Denver" hold little weight. It's one of those desperate comparisons seeking to deflect attention from an obvious challenge: how will industry meet the demand of consumers who actually care about animal welfare? The HSUS and Mercy for Animals have forged excellent campaigns which shine a glaring light on standard industry practices. It should come as no surprise that companies producing meat-alternative foods are doing great business - and creating jobs too. Shareholders should take note and pay careful attention!

Kathy Gleason    
Concord CA  |  February, 11, 2012 at 12:18 AM

No abuse on the video? Depends on what you classify as abuse. Castrating male piglets and cutting off their tails without anesthetic is abuse to me. I stopped eating meat years ago when I learned about factory farming. Face it, the public is becoming more aware of the cruelties of factory farming and wants no part of it. The industry needs change.

Kathy Gleason    
Concord CA  |  February, 11, 2012 at 12:18 AM

No abuse on the video? Depends on what you classify as abuse. Castrating male piglets and cutting off their tails without anesthetic is abuse to me. I stopped eating meat years ago when I learned about factory farming. Face it, the public is becoming more aware of the cruelties of factory farming and wants no part of it. The industry needs change.

Rob Ellis    
Taylors Bridge  |  February, 11, 2012 at 08:47 AM

After seeing the carnage produced and hearing the screams of the insects traumatized by my lawn mower I have given up on lawn maintenance and the rodents living in the walls are my friends.

Dustin    
Seattle  |  February, 12, 2012 at 07:41 PM

I think that it is great that you are covering this story and that you that you have made an effort to be objective. But, I disagree that a person doesn't use sound logic when they agree with HSUS that the treatment of these pigs is inhumane. The writing is on the wall that these pigs are treated horribly and it's logical to assume that the pork industry is trying to make the treatment towards pigs seem less cruel then it is. Sure, HSUS may sensationalize some issues within the animal farming industry to get their point across but I don't think the exaggeration is even close to the level that the meat industry tries to cover up the cruel treatment of these animals. Also, it saddens me when the meat industries decides that instead of improving the treatment towards these animals to address the publics increased negative perception towards common inhumane farming practices, they instead talk about how they need to work on a way to make the public think they are being humane when they actually aren't.

Maxine    
SD  |  March, 02, 2012 at 05:13 PM

Dustin, what are your credentials for judging the quality of animal care by farmers? If you believe, as you state, that anyone raising or processing animals as food deliberately abuses those animals, you lose any credibility with those who realize that only healthy, well cared for animals will provide the profit NECESSARY for a farmer or an agribusiness perosn to stay in business.

Dorothy Hollingsworth    
San Diego  |  April, 02, 2012 at 11:38 AM

How often to they let the sows out of the gestation crates and for how long? This is the thing, meat-eaters have accepted that a living creature will be slaughtered for their dining pleasure. That doesn't mean we're open to anything though. In fact, a lot of us probably feel a guilty for the slaughtering part, so any other 'standard practice' that seems painful or cruel to us is going to get that much more attention. I guess what I'm saying is that we won't stop pushing for more humane practices, and I for one hope the pork producers will continue to use their experience, expertise, and creativity to examine and transform the practices which are painful or seem cruel. And please don't push for more ag-gag legislation; it just comes off as disingenuous and makes me want to avoid all animal products produced in Iowa.


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