HSUS goes to Wall Street to lean on Tyson, Seaboard on gestation stalls
By Rita Jane Gabbett on 8/30/2012
The Humane Society of the United States wrote to the boards of directors of four investment firms informing them that they have become shareholders in order to use channels such as shareholder proposals to pressure companies like Tyson Foods and Seaboard Foods to stop using sow gestation stalls.
“Of particular concern to us – and the impetus for us using shareholder channels with these firms – is the inaction on the part of Tyson Foods and Seaboard Farms in getting gestation crates out of their supply chains,” HSUS Food Policy Director Matthew Prescott wrote in an email to Meatingplace.
In letters to J.P. Morgan, BlackRock, Ameriprise and Prudential, HSUS characterizes their investments in these firms as a possible “financial risk.”
“In light of the legislation around this issue and the demand for gestation crate-free pork by so many of America’s largest food companies, Tyson’s and Seaboard’s inaction may be a financial risk. As their investors may also, therefore, be at risk, we believe the fiduciary responsibilities BlackRock is bound by should compel your firm to address this issue. And because BlackRock invests so heavily in these companies, The HSUS has an acute interest in your position on this matter,” HSUS wrote.
“Contrary to the impression left by HSUS, this is a complex issue with different points of view. The bottom line is our company is committed to humane animal treatment at all stages of food production and we expect the same from the independent hog farmers who supply us,” Tyson spokesman Worth Sparkman told Meatingplace in an email. “In early 2012 we called on the hog farming industry to accelerate research into improved housing and production practices. We believe this research should be completed as soon as possible to address questions and market demands.”
Sparkman also noted Tyson Foods buys hogs from thousands of family farms, many of whom use gestation stalls for mother pigs and some of whom have group or pen housing.
“Experts believe both housing systems are humane for mother pigs when managed properly. We are continuously monitoring the demands and preferences of our customers and their consumers regarding this topic and will work to respond to their needs as efficiently as possible,” he added.
Retail, foodservice campaign continues
As part of a campaign that has gained momentum all year, HSUS also this week announced Harris Teeter Supermarkets and Subway Restaurants oppose the pork industry’s use of gestation stalls.
HSUS makes the announcements in the form of news releases based on verbiage from major retail and foodservice company websites, often contained in their sustainability reports or in sections of their websites addressing humane handling or sustainable sourcing.
On Thursday, HSUS issued a news release restating some of the language in the animal welfare section of Harris Teeter Supermarkets’ website, which states:
“Harris Teeter knows there are better, more humane, and more sustainable ways to breed pigs than by using gestation crates, which have been long-criticized over animal welfare concerns. We sell Niman Ranch pork, which has always been crate-free and has higher welfare, on-farm practices that are Global Animal Partnership-certified. It is Harris Teeter’s goal to have a gestation crate-free pork supply, and the company is committed to working with its suppliers such as Smithfield to accomplish that goal within a reasonable and feasible timeframe.
We are also pleased to share that Smithfield, for example, has committed to phase-out the use of gestation crates at its facilities by 2017, and Harris Teeter will continue working to ensure all fresh pork products sold at the company are gestation crate-free.”
Similarly, on Tuesday HSUS issued a news release quoting from the animal welfare section of Subway Restaurants’ website, which states:
“We support the elimination of crate style housing for gestation sows and have had this eliminated from our pork suppliers in the UK. Also, our pork suppliers in the U.S. have begun to transition to a more humane process including the elimination of gestation crates and anticipate having this process completed within the next 10 years. We will continue to work with suppliers who share our commitment to phasing out gestation stalls as quickly as possible, putting traceability systems in place and using the best animal welfare and handling practices.”
Companies including McDonald’s, Burger King, Costco, Wendy’s, Oscar Mayer, Denny’s, Safeway, Kroger, Compass Group, Sodexo, Aramark and Sysco have made similar statements.