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SMITHFIELD, Va. -- Smithfield Foods is beginning the process of phasing out individual gestation stalls at all of its company-owned sow farms and replacing them with pens -- or group housing --over the next 10 years. Smithfield also will work with its contract growers regarding system conversion.
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) praised Smithfield's plan to phase out the confinement of pigs in gestation crates over the next decade and called the company's announcement "perhaps the most monumental advance for animal welfare in history of modern American agribusiness."
"This is an earthquake in the pig industry," stated Wayne Pacelle, HSUS president and c.e.o. "Gestation crates are one of the most inhumane confinement systems used in modern agribusiness, and this decision is a signal by the industry leader that these crates have no place in the future of American agriculture. HSUS calls on the other major pork producers to follow Smithfield's lead."
C. Larry Pope, Smithfield's c.e.o., said the the "precedent-setting step" takes into account "our customers, who have made their views known on the issue of gestation stalls. While this will be a significant financial commitment for our company over the next 10 years, we believe it's the right thing to do."
Gestation stalls and group housing are methods used by hog producers to house pregnant sows. The sows are kept in these facilities during their pregnancies, which last about 16 weeks, to closely monitor their progress.
Pope pointed out that "our decision acknowledges that extensive research into sow housing has concluded both gestation stalls and group pens provide for the well-being of pregnant sows and work equally well from a production standpoint. There is no scientific consensus on which system is superior, and we do not endorse one management system over the other."
Smithfield said it also based its decision to adopt the group housing system on initial results of its own three-year study into sow housing. The company has been researching penning systems at some of its hog farms in North Carolina. Preliminary results indicate that, with proper management, group housing arrangements are equally as good as gestation stalls in providing proper care for pregnant sows.
"Existing expert research, along with our own findings, has led us to conclude that switching from gestation stalls to group pens will not have a detrimental effect on our animals or the way we run our business," said Dennis Treacy, Smithfield's v.p. of environmental and corporate affairs.
"Group housing does present some challenges, and we don't have all the answers at this time," Treacy said. "But that's why we have given ourselves 10 years to convert our company-owned farms to group pens. Additional research will provide the information we need."