Across the US, hog farms have developed a practice of separating their sows into gestation crates. Before, sows were normally kept in pens; but due to their aggressiveness, hog farmers now separate sows. While gestation crates have kept the price of pork fairly low for consumers, the crates are barely bigger than the pigs themselves. Pork buyers and animal rights groups have deemed gestation crates cruel, and are pressuring hog farmers to move sows back into group housing.
Several large companies, including Dunkin’ Donuts, ConAgra Food, McDonalds and Brinker International (owner of Chili’s) have publicized that they will no longer purchase pork that is produced from farms that use gestation crates. The number of fast-food companies and food retailers that have also made this same pledge is currently at 32; and the Humane Society of the US is having a field day.
Hog farmers aren’t sharing in the Humane Society’s revelry: moving sows back into pens could prove to be expensive for the farmers, and could result in elevated pork prices for consumers.
The Humane Society’s stance that gestation creates are inhumane has swayed some pork processing companies to rectify their facilities. Cargill, the US’s third-largest pork processor, moved to group housing about 10 years ago; Smithfield Foods shifted to pens in 2011. However, Tyson Foods and JBS, two huge pork processors, refuse to make the move.
Gestations crates continually prove to be a positive for hog farmers. In crates, feed can be individually modified; and by limiting movement, defecation can be controlled, and can be kept out of the pig’s food and water. Crates also allow for easier and safer medical treatment; less aggressiveness; and increased work safety. Gestation crates are more cost-effective, and allow for pigs to birth more piglets.
Hog farmers, who have taken steps to improve conditions for pigs, have done so at great costs. Building rates of new barns with pens can be expensive – operational costs are also amplified because more labor is required to manage sow relations. Medical care is more costly, and no ideal feeding system has been identified.
Under these same circumstances, hog farmers in Britain didn’t fair very well. In 1991, the British government forced hog farmers to move their sows to group housing by 1999. Pork prices rose and consumers were reluctant to pay, instead buying low-cost Dutch and Danish pork, which ultimately ruined British farmers.
Now, countries in the European Union that produce pork, such as Denmark and the Netherlands, have been ordered to move their sows into pens by 2013. Latin American, Chinese and Russian hog farmers stand to gain – since they aren’t required to move their sows, they can sell their pork for cheaper rates on the European market.
The current state of the European pork industry could be a cautionary tale for American consumers and the American pork industry alike. Right now, many American hog farmers are making the move from gestation crates to pens. The question to answer: will the farmers see the economic rewards from this move?
Conceived, Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan
November 5, 2012
Copyright 2012 All rights Reserved by Fluid Management Systems, Inc.