December 14, 2012
Crammed into Gestation Crates
Life for America's breeding pigs
Pigs are one of the smartest animals on Earth. Highly social, intelligent, and curious, they engage in complex tasks, form elaborate, cooperative social groups and feel fear, pain, and stress. Studies show that they are more intelligent than dogs and even some primates, and scientists have demonstrated that pigs are capable of playing simple video games, learning from each other, and even learning names.
Most breeding pigs in the U.S. are confined in "gestation crates" for virtually their entire lives. For several years, they're confined to crates that nearly immobilize them, enduring a cycle of repeated impregnation. These individual cages are approximately 2 feet wide—so small the animals can't even turn around or take more than a step forward or backward.
Due to the duration and severity of their confinement, these pigs' suffering is among the worst of all factory-farmed animals.
The science is clear
Renowned animal welfare scientist Dr. Temple Grandin says, "We've got to treat animals right, and gestation stalls have got to go." She continues, "Confining an animal for most of its life in a box in which it is not able to turn around does not provide a decent life."
The Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production—funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts and Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, and which included the former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture—recommended that "all systems that restrict natural movement," including gestation crates, be phased out.
The economics stack up
It's difficult to imagine an existence worse than lifelong confinement in a space so small you can't even turn around. One alternative to gestation crates is "group housing," which allows animals to move around and socialize.
Iowa State University conducted a two-and-a-half year long economic comparison of gestation crates and group housing and found that "reproductive performance can be maintained or enhanced in well-managed group housing systems...without increasing labor." Overall, the study concluded that "group housing...resulted in a weaned pig cost that was 11 percent less than the cost of a weaned pig from the individual stall confinement system."
For more information on the economics of gestation crate alternatives, see The HSUS's white paper [PDF].
You can help!
Legislation and corporations are driving reforms
With the help of The HSUS and other animal protection advocates, nine U.S. states—Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Maine, Michigan, Ohio, Oregon, and Rhode Island—have passed laws to prohibit the use of gestation crates.
Some of the world's largest food companies have announced that they will eliminate gestation crates from their supply chains. Those companies include McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, SUBWAY, Oscar Mayer, Kroger, Safeway, Costco, Denny's, Jack in the Box, Carl's Jr., Hardee's, Sodexo, Sysco, ARAMARK, Compass Group, Heinz, Campbell Soup, Baja Fresh, Wienerschnitzel, and Harris Teeter.
In a February 2012 announcement [PDF], McDonald's stated, "McDonald's believes gestation stalls are not a sustainable production system for the future" and "McDonald's wants to see the end of sow confinement in gestation stalls in our supply chain."
Other companies—like Winn-Dixie, Quiznos, and Red Robin Gourmet Burgers—have adopted policies to move away from pork from pigs confined in gestation crates. Chipotle, Whole Foods, Wolfgang Puck, and others only use gestation crate-free pork.
An American Farm Bureau poll found that 95 percent of Americans believe farm animals should be well-cared for. The same poll found that most Americans don't consider gestation crate confinement to be humane.
And a Michigan State University study found that 60 percent or more of respondents in every state would support outlawing gestation crates.
Additionally, every time people have been asked to vote on legislation that would outlaw gestation crates, they've overwhelmingly voted to ban them, including in Florida, Arizona, and California.
May 2012: The HSUS releases the details of an undercover investigation at a gestation crate confinement factory farm supplying pigs to meat giant Tyson Foods.
January 2012: The HSUS releases new undercover video footage of gestation crates at two of the top five pork producers in the U.S. (Seaboard Foods and Prestage Farms).
Some pork companies are transitioning away from gestation crates
Major pork producers have also begun moving away from this practice. Smithfield Foods (the world's largest pork producer) and Hormel Foods (maker of SPAM, and also a leading pork producer) have announced that their company-owned facilities will be gestation crate-free by 2017, and pork producer Cargill is already 50 percent gestation crate-free at its operations.
Other pork companies, like Tyson Foods, refuse to acknowledge this important social issue and continue to have no plan to switch to group housing.