Seaboard Foods and Prestage Farms have both addressed the Humane Society of the United States’ (HSUS) latest undercover video and attack on their operations in Oklahoma and gestation-sow stalls.
“We recognize our moral and ethical obligation to provide for the responsible treatment of our animals. Any willful mistreatment or neglect of animals is unacceptable,” said Ron Prestage, who is a veterinarian. “Prestage Farms takes animal well-being very seriously and has a history of implementing programs that help train our employees on proper animal care, handling and transporting procedures.”
Seaboard’s president and chief executive officer, Terry Holton, echoed those sentiments, saying, “We are committed to the proper and humane treatment of animals, and we believe animals can and should be raised, transported and processed using procedures that are safe and free from cruelty and neglect.”
Officials at Prestage Farms, headquartered in Clinton, N.C., immediately initiated an internal investigation into HSUS allegations at units located in Oklahoma. Prestage noted that if it is found that any employee engaged in activities contrary to the company’s animal well-being policies, disciplinary action will be taken, including termination of employment.
Prestage Farms is a family-owned pork production company founded in 1983 and employs over 1,800 people, with operations in North Carolina, South Carolina, Iowa, Mississippi, Alabama, Texas and Oklahoma.
For Seaboard’s part, Holton said, “We’ve reviewed documented employee actions alleging abuse and listened to the recent discussions questioning U.S. industry practices of sow gestation, swine tail cutting (or docking) and swine castration, and strongly dispute any allegations of abuse.” Seaboard Foods is headquartered in Kansas City and had operations in several states.
What’s more, in direct response to the HSUS video, Temple Grandin, animal well-being expert and professor at Colorado State University-- who HSUS quoted in its press release-- stated that “there was no bad behavior by people” in the operations depicted at Seaboard Foods.
Gestation-sow stalls have long been an HSUS target, and some industry watchers expect with the recent HSUS/United Egg Producers’ housing agreement that HSUS will focus more intensely on gestation-sow stalls.
“The video focuses primarily on the use of gestation stalls and depicts this production practice as being cruel to the animal,” Prestage said. “Prestage Farms has production systems for both group (sow) housing and individual housing. We respect the right of farmers to use different housing systems because we know that good animal care is the result of the individual commitment of those who care for animals as well as sound production practices. Whether (sows are) raised in groups or individual housing, we are committed to sound animal care.” (See the National Pork Producers Council's response here.)
Holton noted that Seaboard’s system also uses both individual stalls as well as group pens to house gestating sows. “It is important to recognize animal welfare programs, including housing for gestating sows, must be based on sound science while also seeking a balance with societal concerns,” he said.
He emphasized that animal welfare experts and professional groups have found no one method for housing gestating sows that is clearly better than the other when managed properly. Seaboard is conducting research to determine the best management practices for alternative sow housing for its animals and system.
Regarding HSUS’ charge in the video against “abusive” measures such as tail docking and castration, Holton noted that it’s in accord with American Veterinary Medical Association’s accepted industry practices for the health and well-being of food animals.
He added that Seaboard’s farm managers and farm sites are certified through the pork industry’s PQA Plus program, which includes very specific animal care requirements. Beyond that, Seaboard’s animal rearing guidelines and protocols are audited independently by Farm Animal Care Training and Auditing, LLC, (FACTA), Holton said. FACTA is led by Chief Executive and Scientific Officer John McGlone, professor at the Pork Industry Institute at Texas Tech University. FACTA is supported by a group of credentialed auditors and educators.
“Seaboard Foods employees uphold best industry practices and our company will continue to act in ways that provide the most humane treatment for our animals. All decisions stem from this commitment,” Holton said.