Much of what consumers believe about the use of gestation stalls in pork production is inaccurate. However, when they are exposed to further explanation of the equipment’s use and advantages, their concern is significantly reduced, according to new research by Midan Marketing.

As part of its “Meat Matters” issues management series, the marketing firm polled consumers on their knowledge and beliefs regarding sow housing. Among its findings regarding gestation stalls:

  • 39 percent of the consumers polled are aware of “gestation stalls” as an issue; of those, 70 percent had a negative reaction
  • 66 percent noted gestation stalls represent “poor animal treatment” and 48 percent responded the reason was due to the living quarters being too cramped
  • 37 percent of consumers polled had made no changes in their pork consumption because of the gestation stall issue, but 42 percent “strongly agreed” with retailers’ plans to phase-out pork from producers who continued to use gestation stalls
  • 71 percent did not know whether their most-shopped retail store was among those that planned to phase-out their use in the supply chain 

Generally, consumers believe the use of gestation stalls is for the benefit of farmers, not animals, with 73 percent indicating that crates make it easier for farmers to “ignore pigs.” However, after reading additional background on the reasons farmers began using them in the first place, 44 percent of those polled said their level of concern had decreased. Of those respondents, 26 percent said they understood why stalls were being used and 26 percent said they felt better just having more information.

“The findings show this is not a consumer issue. It’s an industry issue that has been brought to the forefront by one organization,” says Danette Amstein, a principal at Midan Marketing. “And the meat industry has brushed [this organization’s] efforts off too long.”

In comments at the recent 2013 Kansas Swine Profitability Conference, Chris Novak, CEO of the National Pork Board, affirmed Amstein’s statement: “Consumers’ opinions are not based on deep knowledge. Farmers do have a voice, though, and there’s a real opportunity to work together to build a positive story.”

The keys to reversing attitudes and misinformation are continued educational efforts and transparency of best management practices. In its “We Care” information, the National Pork Producers Association (NPPC) states: “As an industry, pork producers believe decisions about housing methods should be based primarily on sound science, input from veterinary experts and the individual farmer’s circumstances. Whether a given farm uses group housing or individual stalls for sows, most experts agree that what really matters is the individual care given to each pig.”