Stalls or groups: It’s a complex issue

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Rob KnoxRob Knox, University of Illinois researcher, looked at the production and welfare impact on sows in various housing arrangements. This year, numerous food retailers have announced deadlines for their pork suppliers to ensure that farms raising the hogs eliminate gestation-sow stalls. These directives are vague in details regarding the compliance regulations, verifications and allowances.

However, these new requirements originate from real or perceived fear of negative publicity, as well as the potential association with farms accused of animal cruelty. Certainly animal cruelty is a highly sensitive issue and there's wide public support to protect animals from abuse. But a logical question is what does animal abuse have to do with housing sows in stalls?

The easy answer is that animal activists have decided it’s an issue of freedom of movement. But the core issue for sow housing should be whether the animals are in an environment that provides them the needed animal welfare. ¬

The current mandates indicate that stalls are not conducive to welfare and that housing sows in pens will be better.

For U.S. consumers, it’s important that they are assured that animals raised for food receive proper treatment and care to produce a safe and healthy source of food, and that it occurs under the best welfare system for the animals.

The truth about animal housing, welfare and production is complex. In fact, simply moving sows from stalls to pens where they can move around will definitely not improve their welfare. Sows were moved into stalls decades ago to improve welfare by ensuring that they had access to daily feed, to eliminate fighting and to provide individual care and reproductive management. When sows moved into stalls it took years to develop experience and expertise.

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