Animal rights groups are calling for more space for pigs, and major restaurant chains are getting on board. But local producers say they don't want to change their system.
Central City pork producer Mark McHargue says producers have housed pigs in gestation crates for the past 20 years.
"We've found on our farm that the animals just do better in the stalls," McHargue says.
But recently, groups like the Humane Society of the United States have begun speaking out about why they think producers should change their ways.
Humane Society spokesperson Paul Shapiro says it's inhumane.
"These animals are essentially immobilized," Shapiro says.
But even with restricted space, McHargue and his staff say this system is safer for both employees and the animals.
Loriann Ang has worked with McHargue for several years. She says the individual stalls keep employees safer by not having to enter a large pen, that could house anywhere from five to 100 animals.
McHargue says it's safer for the animals, which tend to be very territorial.
"They bite each other and they fight a lot for the food and water," McHargue says.
For an operation like McHargue's that monitors the sows individually on a daily basis, he says it would be a step backward in production technology.
"We know exactly how the animals are performing, how many pigs they're giving birth to," McHargue says. Putting them in one or a few large pens would decrease the amount of information and productivity they could track.
In addition to having those records, his operation can also modify the amount or type of food each pig consumes, based on its production.
"When we house them individually, they can eat their individual amount and not bother their neighbors," McHargue says.
It's a controversy that has escalated because of promises made by restaurants not to use pork that comes from producers who use gestation crates. Humane Society officials say those companies are helping send a message to consumers.
"The announcements of companies like McDonald's and Wendy's, that they want to see their pork producers move away from gestation crates, is clearly the writing on the wall," Shapiro says.
Shapiro says his organization hopes that will eventually lead to a mandate on producer practices. But McHargue says it comes down to trust.
"Like anybody that's a professional in their business, we do this every day," McHargue says. "My coworkers and my employees, everyday they get up and that's their job to care for our animals. As a local producer, this is my business, and I feel like this is taking care of our animals the best possible way that we can."
McHargue says a switch to new housing methods for pork producers would likely eventually mean higher costs for consumers.