The head of the National Pork Producers Council is defending the use of gestation crates for pregnant pigs as a growing number of retailers ask for pork from facilities where hogs are raised in group settings rather than the two-foot stalls.
Neil Dierks, the council’s CEO, says farmers should have the freedom to choose.
“There is no one perfect system according to research that was done by the American (Veterinary Medical) Association and the American Association of Swine Practitioners,” he says. “Each system has inherent advantages and disadvantages, but — again — it comes back to the care and the management of the animals given by the producer.”
Nebraska is the nation’s number-six hog producer. About 60 major food retailers, including McDonald’s, Costco and Safeway, have announced they’ll no longer buy pork that comes from facilities where the two-foot stalls were used to limit the movement of sows.
Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer, announced Tuesday it’s more than halfway through converting the facilities it owns to group housing for pregnant sows and the company will be less likely to renew contracts with independent farmers who continue to use gestation stalls. Smithfield has multiple facilities in Nebraska, including large processing plants in Omaha, Lincoln and Crete.
Critics like the Human Society of the United States argue the small stalls are inhumane, as pregnant sows cannot turn around in the gestation stalls.
Supporters say the stalls keep the sows from fighting with other pigs and allow for precise feeding of each sow.
Producers say the stalls also keep the sows from stepping on or killing the baby pigs.