Animal rights groups exploit “gap of knowledge”

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Animal rights groups have changed their tactics in recent years. Rather than run inflammatory ads in newspapers, or throw pies at pork queens, they’re determined to build business-to-business relationships with food companies. Why? So they can influence how animals are raised with companies that buy large quantities of pork, like McDonald’s, Burger King and most recently, Marriott.

Unfortunately, representatives of these groups have stretched the truth in terms of the number of operations that use group housing for gestating sows. Neil Dierks, Chief Executive Officer of the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) says animal rights groups have been very successful in “exploiting the gap of knowledge.”

Dierks spoke at the Iowa Master Pork Producers breakfast last week in Des Moines, Iowa, during the 2013 Iowa Pork Congress. As CEO, he is responsible for the overall implementation of all NPPC programs, with emphasis on reasonable legislation, producer profitability and protection of producers’ livelihoods.

According to Dierks, food companies are being told that more than 25% of gestating sows are already housed in groups, while in reality the number is closer to 6%. As a result, companies are going to have difficulty acquiring the animals they need to meet the 2018 timeline of having all animals sourced from operations that have group housing. Even a best-case scenario puts 15% of production in group housing by 2018, says Dierks.

Even more surprising is that many of these food companies haven’t discussed the group-housing decision with their suppliers. At the present time, suppliers have no way to segregate animals based on how they were housed during processing, which means there is no verification process. In addition, the cost to achieve this goal will be significant.

Dierks asks, “At what cost” will these mandates be implemented? He believes that not only will the industry – and consumers – ultimately have to pay, but the industry will have an increased carbon footprint and it may be more difficult for small producers to change production practices than larger entities.

Public issues related to pork production are becoming increasingly important. Consumers want to know where their food comes from, how it’s produced and how it’s handled at every point along the food chain. It’s the industry’s responsibility to make sure all parties in the process, including the end user, know and understand best management practices.

Tell us what you think: How can industry leaders take a more proactive role in helping consumers and food companies understand how and why we raise animals the way we do? Let’s consider some creative alternatives.

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Chris B.    
South Dakota  |  January, 30, 2013 at 12:27 PM

So the fact that 94% of mother pigs are confined to tiny gestation crates is a reason to keep using gestation crates? That's horrifying! That statistic makes me want to go even further in support of regulatory action since the free market can't be trusted to put an animal's minimum comfort over a few cents of profit.

Missouri  |  January, 30, 2013 at 08:14 PM

Go to a farm and actually see the truth for yourself instead of believing an animal rights terrorist group!

Jerry Friedman    
Houston, TX  |  January, 30, 2013 at 05:30 PM

Creative alternatives? Let the pigs live the rest of their lives in a sanctuary. Pig farmers can then repurpose their land to grow human-grade vegetation. Everybody wins.

Wanda Patsche    
Minnesota  |  January, 30, 2013 at 07:51 PM

Chris B. I understand your concern that hogs be treated well as I share the same goal. I am a hog farmer and I can assure you that sows are comfortable in individual maternity pens. Hogs have a social hierarchy which includes a process to determine a "boss" sow. The way they determine the boss sow is through fighting/injuring/killing each other. It is not pretty to watch. I personally have seen broken legs/backs, torn/eaten vulvas and tails, and death as a result of these fights. It is because of this activity, that farmers house them individually. The sows receive individual care, each is fed the right amount of feed and given any necessary medical attention. In fact, when we moved our sows from group housing to individual pens, the sows were immediately very content. I believe it is because they felt safe. And research backs our observations. We also work very close with our veterinarian to give our sows the best care. Research also shows there is no increased stress with these sows housed in individual pens. And again, our observations agree with those results.

66701  |  January, 30, 2013 at 11:28 PM

Chris isn't going to listen to you or the university researchers, or the generations of farmers who have raised pigs. She probably saw a picture once of a cute little piggie. They are darling. I also doubt she has heard of the farmer that had his sows in a group pen and got knocked down by them while feeding them. You probably heard of someone that had this happen as you are a farmer. You know the neighbors found his bloody clothes and a few bones. Chris doesn't care about that, she only sees a cute pigglet, not a 1,000 + pound sow that is 3 1/2 feet tall and 8 to 9 feet long that can literally pick up a car with it's nose. People who don't know pigs should stay out of hog farmer's business. Leave it up to the farmers and the university ag professionals.

Michelle Smith    
Indiana  |  January, 31, 2013 at 08:44 AM

Alternative Solution to Educating the general public: As the number of farms decrease and the amount of needed food increases, I would recommend utilizing our younger generations to educate not only their local communities but all around the country. Many animal rights advocates are targeting the universities and even high school age individuals to push their propaganda. We have 4H and FFA, but these groups do not tend to reach out to communities in activist type of activities. The number of rural citizens as well as the number of farmers is decreasing and we have a smaller voice but that voice needs to be heard not only by large organizations but by the people that the community tends to believe. Utilize our younger gneration and allow them to share their knowledge. They are an amazing asset that hasn't begun to be tapped.

Ohio  |  January, 31, 2013 at 08:53 AM

People never ask why we put sows in stalls or for that matter hens in battery cages in the first place and it obviously is not because it was a less expensive housing option. It was because it improved their life in many ways as pointed out by Wanda. Are these housing systems perfect - no. Would we like to improve how we raise the animals that are the basis of our business - yes. As such we would welcome any support helping us determine how to improve the lives of our animals, but the answers must be from the animals point of view. Not someones opinion of how they they think they would feel if they were in that situation. We want to make changes but only in a way the moves forward in animal care, not backwards. As Pork producers we donate a certian amount of money from the sale of every animal to do reserach to help us find those answers. HSUS not only does not use its money to actually care for animals, they do not use any of their money for research to actually determine the animals needs. Even when they promised they would. I suggest when a company establishes themselves as experts on animal care by making demands, NPPC should contact them and ask them to match our check off dollars for research to help us find answers. We will find better ways to care for our animals, we will be the ones that do it and we will be the ones that pay for it. It would be nice for once to have someone else put their money where their mouth is.

Hog Man    
IL  |  January, 31, 2013 at 09:04 AM

Jerry, You are so sadly misinformed. First, where would you propose these sanctuaries be and run. Anti-horse slaughter people tried that and cannot find enough shelters, nor are they willing to pay for them. Second, many hog farmers do not have much land. Third, "human-grade vegetation"....what is that? Not all land is capable of growing fruits and vegetables, and obviously not year-round. Even if that was the case, thinkk of the increase in chemical fertilizer needed for these crops. What would "organic" consumers do? There would be no more organic, as they rely on manure (organic fertilizer) for their crops. Animal agriculture is important in the total food cycle of not only humans, but nature itself.

Hog Man    
IL  |  January, 31, 2013 at 09:10 AM

We need to work with our veterinary schools to educate the small animal vets so they can help educate their wealthy, suburban clients, who all seem to live in la-la-land on this subject. In fact some of these vets are also involved in the crate-free movement. Just look at AVMA where there are often long discussions about this. These folks can often out vote the large animal vets on large animal is unwise and not fair for such a respected organization. Same deal on antibiotic use...while they dole out the meds for "fifi".

Hog Man    
IL  |  January, 31, 2013 at 09:10 AM

We need to work with our veterinary schools to educate the small animal vets so they can help educate their wealthy, suburban clients, who all seem to live in la-la-land on this subject. In fact some of these vets are also involved in the crate-free movement. Just look at AVMA where there are often long discussions about this. These folks can often out vote the large animal vets on large animal is unwise and not fair for such a respected organization. Same deal on antibiotic use...while they dole out the meds for "fifi".

January, 31, 2013 at 09:14 AM

I'm a university researcher working on animal welfare. Group housing can work and work well. The aggression argument is not valid with well-manged group housing systems, and in no way can you can a gestation crate an "individual maternity pen". It is not a pen. A pen allows the sow to move. It's like calling a farrowing crate, a farrowing "cradle", which I've also heard used to soften the image. Of course not all group systems are the same, and the argument is not a simple 'group vs crate' one. Once the hierarchy is established, there should absolutely not be any serious fighting in your group.

iowa  |  January, 31, 2013 at 10:04 AM

Andrew is partially right that once the hierarchy is established the group is reasonably stable but at feeding time there is serious aggression due to the limited feed. Every time a new sow is added to the group or a bunch of weaned sows is regrouped there is serious fighting. Neither system is ideal, but I suggest allowing the people who have to work with the animals make their own welfare and economic decisions. Group housing can work well but so can individual housing. There are reasons producers moved to stalls. You may not like the "individual pen" but one could call group housing "fighting cages".

Mark Patterson    
Nationwide  |  January, 31, 2013 at 11:16 AM

Pork producers! You do a great job producing the best quality product in the world, affordably, safely and with great care for the animals. It is common sense that to deliver a great quality product you have to take care of your product. Time to stop letting the animal rights activists control the message. Join The Cavalry Group at and starting standing proud of your industry and fight back!

January, 31, 2013 at 11:30 AM

Like I said, no all group systems are the same. Yes, if you have a competitive feeding system, aggression will be promoted. Sows will fight when mixed, but there are ways to reduce the fighting, and hierarchy will be pretty much established in a few hours. If you still have fighting, then it's a system design/management issue, not a "group housing is bad" issue.

Terry Ward    
Pa.  |  January, 31, 2013 at 11:43 AM

‎"Long term the data available suggests that breeding herd productivity ISN'T MUCH DIFFERENT between crate-free and crated systems" Mike Brumm Swine Consultancy, Inc

Terry Ward    
Pa.  |  January, 31, 2013 at 11:48 AM

"More people turned to the HSUS and PETA for animal welfare information about your industry than all pork industry groups, government agencies and scientific sources combined"

kansas  |  January, 31, 2013 at 06:42 PM

bayleigh, wanda, etc. - Chris B., Jerry Friedman & Terry Ward are A.R. Trolls (look it up) and you waste your time addressing anything they say. Scorn them and ignore them for they are here for no purpose other than to irritate and annoy. They are not our customers, never will be and will never be convinced because they are self-righteous zealots who have been deluded, or deluded themselves, into believing they are morally and intellectually superior to all of us rubes. Keep your own counsel among these true-believers and save your energy for the honestly ignorant who sincerely wish to be educated.

Thom Katt    
Midwest  |  February, 01, 2013 at 10:02 AM

Doris, a 1000 pound sow, 8 or 9 feet long? Really? Which hog farms sows of such size? They wouldn't fit the equipment on a modern hog farm. And they would be a piglet crushing nightmare in a crateless farrowing situation. I've seen very few BOARS of that size, even when they were kept to win biggest boar contests. Sows are more likely to be in the 600 to 700 pound class and 6 o 7 feet from nose to base of tail, or smaller.

Thom Katt    
Midwest  |  February, 01, 2013 at 10:07 AM

Wanda, can you post links or other citations for the research on sow well being that you mentioned? I'm not arguing with you. And I doubt that it would convince Chris B. But your comment may be read by a lot of people who don't know what to believe or think. They are looking for a body of evidence to guide their opinion. They are the people you need to reach. I know it takes time to find all the documents and record the cititations. But it is worth the time becuase this debate is going to go on for a long time and you are going to have plenty of opportunities to re-use those citiations.

February, 01, 2013 at 10:08 AM

I too am an animal well-being researcher and the social hierarchy may be in balance once it is established but I sincerely hope you aren't ignoring the devastating physical abuse and pain that sows put on each other during the establishment of such hierarchy. Furthermore, if you have 15 sows that have established hierarchy and then add in 3 more, the entire process starts over again. You have to have static groups and even then there is no way to prevent the physical abuse that they do to each other in the beginning. There is not a definitive answer to which system is better because some studies use cortisol, which is not a very reliable method of stress research, some use lactate, some use epi and norepi and the studies all contradict each other. It's asinine that an entire industry is being transformed and essentially moving backwards in efficiency because an animal rights group, with absolutely no scientific basis or knowledge, is lobbying for the cause with a multi-billion dollar budget. Gestation stalls may not be the answer but moving backwards to all group housing definitely isn't either. There should be far more research into flexstalls, which work very well.

Thom Katt    
Midwest  |  February, 01, 2013 at 10:19 AM

Hog Man, it would be nice if you idea would happen. But how is that going to come about when the in-coming classes at our veterinary medical colleges are made up of a large percetage (sometimes even a majority) of vegetarians? Additionally, a lot of those students don't select large or food animal rotations as part of their education. You threw out a concept but a plan is needed. When you say "We need to work with our veternary school" who do your propose to do that and what are your ideas for the specifics of the work.

NJ  |  February, 01, 2013 at 04:15 PM

HSUS isn't interested in animals' needs, just their own agenda. HSUS leaders excel at propagandandizing their cause for power, publicity, and money. The day to day realities of food production are beneath them. Why would HSUS pay for objective research and boring program evaluations when they can simply hire a pregnant sitcom actress to promote their gestation crate campaign by comparing her situation to that of a pregnant sow - and asking people to support H$U$ while doing it? Why let PETA maintain control of the (recruit celebrities and trivialize the issue) protocol? HSUS is Number One now, haven't you heard?

Son of a Farmer    
Iowa  |  February, 05, 2013 at 06:57 PM

I’m sorry but you seem to be confused. After Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden tree death became present in the world. We are now all sinners no matter what we do we are sinners in the Lords eyes. However we can ask for forgiveness to be saved and become a child of God and live our lives for him. In today’s world death is present and there is a natural cycle and food chain. In order for one living thing to survive another must die. It is plain and simple. If Adam and Eve would have obeyed Gods one command and not have eaten from the tree of good and evil then it would be different. In addition without an animal protein source in a diet, one does not receive a proper balance of the essential amino acids and have to eat a lot more plant products as well as a wider variety to meet that nutrient requirement. Here is a quote from the big man himself: NIV Bible Genesis 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” “Unfortunately, most people never observe the natural cycle of birth and death. They do not realize that for one living thing to survive, another living thing must die.” ― Temple Grandin, Thinking In Pictures, Expanded Edition: My Life With Autism

NJ  |  February, 05, 2013 at 07:39 PM

I agree with Son of a Farmer about the body's need for animal protein. While there are people who are able to maintain their physical and mental health on a vegetarian diet, the majority of us cannot. Even fewer people can thrive as vegans. I personally have a sugar imbalance. In order to feel OK and work productively, I need animal protein and a low carbohydrate diet. The animal protein works best when it is freshly cooked. Low fat, high carb diets do not work for me. In order to figure out how to maintain my energy and focus, I read a number of books on carbs, the glycemic index, and related issues. Several mentioned that animal protein is necessary for sugar regulation and the avoidance of diabetes. When I feel weak or ill, it is usually because I had low-quality or not enough protein in the previous 24-48 hours. I have gotten better at avoiding this situation. Years ago, I saw a piece on ABC's 20/20 about a promising treatment for autistic children. It involved very high fat diets. I read that Adam Lanza's mother fed him a vegan diet from childhood until the day he snapped. Not very humane.

Son of a Farmer    
Iowa  |  February, 05, 2013 at 09:09 PM

Jerry.....Yeah that is creative. I just want to clarify that your "sanctuary alternative" is called feral hogs. They originated from pigs that escaped from early settlers in America and have adapted to the environment. We are currently are dealing with that problem in the southern states as their population has exploded as they are extremely fertile. In addition they are starting to move north, the last report I heard was that one was caught in Dunlap Iowa. They are extremely mean and will attack you, very destructive and are great for ruining habitats for other animals in wildlife not to mention the land itself, they also are a major health risk as they carry diseases that will easily infect and destroy our current domesticated hog. For instance a group of feral hors got through a fence on a vegetable farm and contaminated a whole field of lettuce due to their feces causing a major ecoli recall on lettuce. Not to mention a good diet includes protean from an animal source as all amino acid needs are met due to the fact that plants don’t contain those nutrients. God gave us canine teeth for biting and chewing meat not just for the sole purpose of grinding plants.

Terry Ward    
Pa.  |  February, 27, 2013 at 04:28 PM

‎"Long term the data available suggests that breeding herd productivity ISN'T MUCH DIFFERENT between crate-free and crated systems" Mike Brumm Swine Consultancy, Inc

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