Smithfield Foods, Inc., has announced plans to phase out its practice of keeping pregnant sows in metal crates at 460 hog farms here in the US by 2017, and at its all international facilities by 2022.
The world’s largest producer of pork products, Smithfield has been severely criticized for the practice of breeding its pigs in gestational crates which reduces their ability to move about freely and has vowed to move them into more humane group housing.
"Moving away from gestation crates eliminates one of the worst practices on pig farms, where mothers are confined in these tight crates for most of their lives," stated David Byer, senior corporate liaison for Norfolk-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. “Still, they really need to act more quickly if they're taking this issue seriously."
In the meantime, Smithfield’s Virginia-based subsidiary filed a report with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission last month, stating that the shift to group housing would cost $360 million, up from previous estimates of $300 million.
The company claims to have successfully moved about 38% of the estimated 851,000 sows kept in the United States as of the end of 2012, and added that “its operations in Poland and Romania have completed theirs, while its Granjas Carroll de Mexico and Norson join ventures in Mexico are on track for the 2022 target.”
Similarly, Austin, MN.-based Hormel Foods Corp., has announced its own commitment to stop using gestational crates by 2017, as has Atlantic Premium Brands Ltd. of Northbrook, Il.
However, Tyson Foods Inc., the second-largest pork processor and the largest meat processor in the U.S., continues to face criticism by chief executive of the Humane Society of the U.S., Wayne Pacelle, for failing to live up to its rivals in this important matter.
“Tyson Foods and Seaboard Farms are lagging in taking similar actions, and they are increasingly out of step with their consumers’ wishes," he said.
However, it should be noted that Tyson did announce in October that its FarmCheck program will “audit its suppliers’ operations to ensure that animals destined for its processing plants are raised in humane environments.”