ConAgra Eliminates Gestation Crates in Pork Production

By: Rowena Li Email
By: Rowena Li Email

ConAgra surprised pork producers by announcing that it will ask suppliers to eliminate gestation crates within the next decade. The food giant is the latest company to join the gestation crate-free movement, and the announcement is sending waves of concern through the pork production industry.

The crates under fire are used to keep breeding pigs. Animal welfare activists say the stalls are inhumane because they are barely bigger than the pigs themselves.

"Common sense that animals built to move should move, and that mother pigs shouldn't be crammed into a cage so small she can't turn around her whole life," says Josh Balk of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).

Animal welfare activists want pigs to be kept in open pens, but some producers say that can lead to fighting between sows, causing infections and underfed pigs.

"We've used open penning style, like ConAgra's asking us to do, and we felt like it's very difficult to manage those animals in that situation, so we've taken them and we've housed them individually," says Mark McHargue, who owns Big Valley Pork.

The HSUS is not persuaded by arguments such as McHargue's.

"Does moving away from gestation crates create a utopia? Of course not, but it does allow these pigs to at least have the ability to turn around and to socialize, and to allow them to be more like pigs," Balk argued.

But producers are saying that the change could put smaller producers out of business, and consumers would also be affected by the higher price of pork.

"The reason that we went to gestation-style housing is that it allowed us to care for the animal better, it takes less feed, has a lower carbon footprint," McHargue says.

But animal advocates like Balk say, "Times have changed. and it's time for the pork industry to move along with the times."

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