McDonald’s stirs up pork producers with sow plan
McDonald’s Corp. said last week that its U.S. pork producers will work over the next 10 years to phase out the use of crates to confine sows when they’re pregnant.
The fast-food giant announced in February that it would require all of its U.S. pork suppliers to say by May how they would stop using the increasingly unpopular gestation stalls.
Many pig farmers keep pregnant sows in the crates to reduce aggressive behavior by separating them from other hogs and feeding them individually. Saying the tightly packed stalls are inhumane, animal rights groups have pressed restaurant operators to abandon the devices.
Tim Maiers, public relations director with the Illinois Pork Producers Association, said his members are concerned on a daily basis with animal welfare. But he called last week’s McDonald’s announcement a “marketing” decision.
“We’re disappointed how that (decision) will potentially affect pork supplies, and the cost of pork to consumers, and the effect this will have on farmers as well,” Maiers said.
McDonald’s decision could put significant pressure on smaller farmers who use gestation stalls to care for their animals, said Everett Forkner, a farmer from Richards, Mo., and president of the National Pork Board.
“For a producer who has built a new barn in the past few years, McDonald’s announced timeline could force them to make significant new investments,” Forkner said in a statement. “So to make the conversion, my fellow producers are going to have to go to a banker with a plan that is likely to increase costs and reduce productivity – not a plan that is likely to inspire great confidence in a banker or investor.”
Forkner said the National Pork Board’s position continues to be that peer-reviewed research shows overwhelmingly that both individual stalls and open pens are appropriate ways to provide good care to pregnant sows. These decisions mean that farmers are being told by others which of the two systems works best on their farms, he said.
“I’ve been in this business a long time,” Forkner said in the statement. “I know on my own farm I moved from open pens to stalls many years ago because too many sows were being injured or denied feed. When sows are thrown together they can become very aggressive. Dominant sows physically attack the others, bite them and steal their food. The housing used by most farmers was designed to protect sows from this bullying while they are most vulnerable, during their pregnancies.”
The Associated Press and NAFB News Service contributed to this report.