Smithfield Foods eliminate pregnant sow stalls
Smithfield Foods announced it has done away with the old “gestation crates,” single animal enclosures so small the pigs can’t turn around. The Virginia-based company spent 360 million USD renovating its farms with the alternative “group-housing systems,” which either keep the animals in pens or allow them to move freely between pens and individual stalls. The transition fulfills a promise the company made 10 years ago to phase out the stalls at all of the U.S. farms it owns by the end of 2017.
“We saw that many of our customers were concerned about the traditional ways in which (the pigs) were housed, making pledges and commitments to try to source their supply from producers with open-housing systems,” said Stewart Leeth, Smithfield Foods’ chief sustainability officer. “We decided to take a leadership position.”
Gestation crates became popular in the 1960s because they kept hogs out of foul weather, made it easier to provide medical care and prevented animal waste from mixing into the feed. Less aggression among animals reduced injuries, and piglet litters increased. The system was a way to keep costs down and pork prices cheaper.
Smithfield Foods now uses two different types of group housing at its 200 sow farms nationwide. One includes “free-access,” which consists of about 30 to 40 pigs living together in a common area, with access to individual stalls for feeding or alone time. The other system is called “small group housing,” which involves smaller pens enclosing about five or six pigs.
The company’s next steps are converting its international farms by 2022. Properties in Romania and Poland already have switched.