Pork processors tread lightly on gestation issue; activists do not
Representatives from Cargill and Farmland Foods on Tuesday told Illinois pork producers they had no intention of asking them to stop using gestation stalls, the same day activist groups again stepped up their campaigns against the practice.
“Cargill has no intention of requiring suppliers to convert to crate-free gestation,” Amy Geiman, pork regional supply leader at Cargill Pork told members of the Illinois Pork Producers Association here. “We have been changing ours, but that is not a statement on what we expect you to do.”
Jesse Dohlman, a procurement analyst at Farmland Foods, echoed Geiman. “If you can humanely raise sows in gestation stall housing or in group housing, it does not matter. It is your decision and not ours.”
Estimating it would cost $400 to $800 per sow to convert from gestation stalls, which are currently used in about 95 percent of U.S. pork production, Dohlman added, “We are not saying you need to convert and you don’t need to.” He went on to say Farmland Foods is not providing products that are labeled as “gestation crate free.”
Both speakers, however, said they are respondng and will continue to respond to consumer demand, admitting it is a dynamic situation that is changing rapidly. They told the group there might come a time when market dynamics shift such that pork producers want to consider making the change.
They were quick to add that they are not yet segregating pork by the animal husbandry practices used by their suppliers. If customer demand warranted that in the future, there would be a cost associated with it that consumers would have to be willing to pay. “We are going to ask a price for it,” said Dohlman.
They also noted there are currently no standards or agreed definitions of what constitutes “crate-free” sow housing. Geiman said as Cargill converts its own production facilities it defines it like this: Once a sow is confirmed pregnant, she is placed in a non-constrictive environment until no earlier than 12 days before the expected date of farrowing at which time she may be kept in a farrowing unit.
Activists march on
Meanwhile, the activist group Mercy for Animals on Tuesday released a video that showed sows in gestation stalls among other things and alleged animal abuse, though a panel of animal care experts who viewed the video said the animals were generally well cared for.
Also on Tuesday, Costco joined the growing list of pork buyers prompted by the Humane Society of the United States to announce plans to source their pork from gestation-stall-free producers by 2022.
On Wednesday, HSUS announced it had 250,000 online signatures on petitions urging Tyson Foods to develop plans for ending the use of gestation stalls.
“Tyson buys hogs from thousands of family farms, many of whom have individual sow housing, some of whom have group pen sow housing. Experts believe both housing systems are humane for the sows when managed properly. As our customers provide consumers with choices, we will continue to work to meet those needs,” Tyson spokesman Worth Sparkman said
“We recognize our responsibility to motivate continuous improvements throughout the food chain. We’re committed to humane animal treatment at all stages of food production and we expect the same from farms that supply us with livestock,” he noted, adding, “Earlier this year, we called on the hog farming industry to accelerate research into improved housing and production practices. This research should be completed as soon as possible to address questions and market demands.”