ConAgra Foods wants its pork suppliers to eliminate the use of gestation-sow stalls, the company announced today.
“As part of our long-standing commitment to the humane treatment and handling of animals, ConAgra Foods supports the elimination of gestation-stall housing for sows,” ConAgra Foods said in a statement. “We are asking our pork suppliers to present actionable plans by 2017 that address both the elimination of gestation stalls and creation of traceability systems within the pork supply chain. We recognize that implementing a phase-out may be a long-term process, and could take up to 10 years .”
The company further added, “ConAgra Foods intends to continue working with pork suppliers who share our commitment to the best animal welfare and handling practices.”
Headquartered in Omaha, Neb., ConAgra Foods is a Fortune 500 company with net sales totaling more than $13 billion in fiscal 2012. It features numerous retail and foodservice brands, including Banquet, Marie Callenders, Healthy Choice and Hunts. ConAgra Foods sells nearly 12.3 million packages of food products daily, including 3.8 million frozen food packages. “Our consumer foods are found in 97 percent of America’s households, and 28 of them are ranked first or second in their category,” the company notes on its website.
This latest announcement puts the tally at 30 food companies that have asked pork suppliers to end the use of gestation-sow stalls. The timelines vary from 2017 to 2020 to 2022.
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has been lobbying food companies to join the efforts to end gestation-stall housing. In some cases, HSUS has used its position as a stockholder in a company to add to the pressure.
“ConAgra Foods is the latest of the food giants to express their demand in creating a future without gestation crates,” says Josh Balk, HSUS corporate policy director of farm animal protection. “This policy makes it even clearer than ever that the cruel gestation crate confinement of pigs will come to an end.”
As a block, the nation’s pork producers have not responded to the movement to eliminate gestation stalls. The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) has not commented on the latest round of announcements. Both NPPC and the National Pork Board are currently funding and reviewing research on sow housing options.
Some producers have started to move toward alternative housing—Smithfield Foods, Hormel Foods and Cargill all have plans in the works for hogs they raise in company-owned units. Most producers feel the decision should be left to the individual producer as animal welfare is dependent on numerous factors, not achieved by simply moving animals out of stalls.
“HSUS still hopes, as we always have, that pork industry leaders will sit down with us and hash out a plan to move this issue forward in a way that works for our nation’s hog farmers as well as their pigs,” says Matthew Prescott, HSUS food policy director. “As those leaders have been unresponsive, we’re left with little choice but to continue making this a top-priority issue for the food industry, media and public.”