Joining the ranks of food companies that want pork suppliers to stop using gestation-sow stalls is Sysco, headquartered in Houston, Texas. With a 17.5 percent market share, Sysco is North America’s largest foodservice distributor.

Sysco officials sent a statement to The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), saying, “Sysco takes its role as a responsible corporate citizen in the food supply chain seriously. We use science-based standards for animal welfare and work diligently with our suppliers to ensure humane treatment of animals. We also listen closely to our customers desires. Although there are many ways to house sows, several customers and suppliers have expressed their desire to eliminate gestation crates from their supply chains. Therefore, Sysco is committed to working with its suppliers to create a gestation crate-free supply system, for the good of all. Like many of our customers, we’re going to work with our pork suppliers to develop a timeline to achieve this goal.”

The company has not yet committed to a gestation-stall-free timeline. “As you can imagine, the Sysco supply system is quite complex,” says Matthew Prescott, HSUS food policy director. “Needless to say, Sysco distributes an enormous quantity of pork to restaurants and other food outlets of all sizes.”

Sysco has more than 180 locations in the United States, Canada and Ireland, and serves more than 400,000 customers worldwide with an estimated $40 billion in sales last year.

Restaurants make up 62 percent of Sysco’s customer base, but it also supplies food products to healthcare and educational facilities, sports venues, lodging establishments and other outlets that prepare meals away from home. According to the company’s website, it offers 400,000 products and has 40,000 Sysco branded products.

While Sysco has a long list of suppliers, those providing pork “that met or exceeded” the company's standards and were recognized in its “2012 Sysco Supplier Excellence Awards” program were: Gold level, Sara Lee (now Hillshire Brands); Silver, JBS; Bronze, Smithfield, Tyson, Cargill, Clemens Food Group and Sugardale.

Of the pork providers on that list, Smithfield has pledged to eliminate gestation stalls in its company-owned facilities by 2017. Cargill reportedly has 50 percent of its gestating sows out of stalls.

Sysco is focusing on and promoting its sustainability path—“we seek and implement ways to influence the entire foodservice lifecycle. From advocating low-impact farming methods to using hybrid diesel delivery trucks to providing local and organic foods and biodegradable takeout containers, we strive to do what’s right for our business, our community and our planet,” the company outlines on its website.

Wayne Pacelle, HSUS president and chief executive officer, says Sysco’s decision is one more within the broader food retail sector, which is conveying “an emphatic ‘no confidence’ vote in the pork industry’s production practices.”