Compass Group North America is the latest food company to step forward and commit to buying only pork from suppliers who do not use gestation-sow stalls. Company officials announced the decision on Thursday, with a deadline to accomplish that goal in the U.S. supply chain by 2017.

Compass Group’s origins are in London, with U.S. headquarters in Charlotte, N.C. The company identifies itself as the world's largest food and support services’ company, with operations in 50 countries. The North American division runs dining operations at more than 10,000 schools, colleges and universities, corporations, hospitals, senior living centers, sports and entertainment venues and cultural institutions across the United States. It reports purchasing 38 million pounds of pork annually.

Among Compass Group’s clients are Microsoft, Caterpillar, IBM, United Technologies Corp., University of Arkansas, Louisiana State University and the Chicago Public Schools. It provides catering to events such as the U.S. Open, Ryder Cup and the Academy Awards.

The company points out that it also provides access to over 50 regional, national and international brands such as Einstein Bros Bagels, Chick-fil-A, Pizza Fusion, Johnny Rockets, and Quizno's.

Its portfolio of companies includes Bon Appetit Management Company, which announced its move to gestation-stall free pork purchases on Feb. 21, and Wolfgang Puck Catering, which took the same stance a couple of years ago.

"Animal welfare is an important issue to our clients, our guests and our company," says Steve Sweeney, chief executive officer of Chartwells, which provides dining services to schools and universities, speaking on behalf of Compass Group. "Encouraged by Bon Appetit's efforts, we are proud to be the first large foodservice company to make this commitment." Chartwells provides foodservice at more than 225 colleges and universities, and 550 school districts.

Matthew Prescott, food policy director for the Humane Society of the United States, told Pork Network, “HSUS welcomes the work of forward-thinking companies like McDonald’s, Bon Appetit and Compass Group. The few short decades that gestation crates have dominated the industry represent only a blip in the history of pork production, and thanks to the retailers and producers that are innovating away from gestation crate confinement, it seems these devices are reaching the end of their lifespan.”

Compass Group’s news release points to the company’s “history of responsible initiatives, including support for sustainable agriculture and local food economies, the 100 percent use of cage-free shell eggs, the reduction of the use of antibiotics in animal production, sustainable seafood for healthier oceans, and social justice in agriculture exemplified by a partnership with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.”

“Compass Group’s commitment for a gestation crate-free supply chain again demonstrates this company’s leadership on animal welfare and corporate social responsibility,” says Wayne Pacelle, HSUS president and chief executive officer. “This announcement provides yet another major signal to the pork industry: it must start listening to consumer sentiment on animal welfare and stop confining pigs in metal cages barely larger than their bodies.”

Compass Group North America has Fiscal Year 2011 annual revenues of $11 billion and employs more than 180,000 associates throughout the United States and Canada, and 470,000 worldwide. You can find out more here.