Food industry giants have been using gestation crates for pork production in the United States for longer than we can remember. These crates trap pregnant mothers in cages that are too small, often resulting in infection and unnecessary pain.
However, the industry is starting to see a change. Recently, a handful of food industry leaders put their purchasing power to good use, announcing plans for humane treatment of their livestock within the next 10 to 20 years. Trends show that gestation crates are on their way out as major chains such as Baja Fresh and Carl's Jr. finally give them the boot.
Approximately 60-70 percent of all breeding female pigs, or sows, in production end up in gestation crates. In the quest for efficiency, companies often house these pregnant mothers in rows of individual metal crates designed to precisely confine the average sow.
“You’re asking a sow to live in an airline seat . . . it’s something that needs to be phased out,” renowned animal science doctor Temple Grandin explained in a report released by The Humane Society on sow welfare.
This snug single stall confinement restricts the movement and activity of the pig. Unable to even turn around, sows resort to ramming their bodies into the bars, resulting in open wounds, or chewing on the bars in front of them until their gums bleed. These injuries quickly turn to infections due to the lack of individual attention given to animals in factory farming.
“Regardless of how the system is managed, these pigs are barely able to move even an inch their entire lives. They’re unable to walk around, to turn around, causes them to quite literally go insane,” said Paul Shapiro, vice president of Farm Animal Protection at The Humane Society, in a video on the matter.
This month, CKE Restaurants, parent company of chains Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, took the lead. On July 6, this fast-food king pledged to end the use of gestation crates by 2022. In 2007, the corporation first introduced group housing, a more spacious and humane alternative to sow stalls; however, this month’s announcement is the first word of entirely eliminating gestation crates. With upwards of 3,000 locations, this move toward sow group housing will be a huge step for the welfare of these animals.
Oscar Mayer followed closely by announcing its 10-year plan a few days later. This well-known wiener brand is owned by the world’s second largest food company, Kraft. The goal, similar to CKE’s, is to be free of gestation crates by 2022.
Fresh Enterprises, LLC—the owner of Baja Fresh, La Salsa, and Canyon’s Burger—also recently publicized a similar plan of attack. While there is no strict deadline, Fresh Enterprises plans to only purchase pork from suppliers with in-print plans to cease the use of gestation crates. With a total of 279 locations between the three chains, they have a real shot of making a difference.
These major companies are finding that not only are sow stalls inhumane, but they are also not sustainable. In fact, the alternatives to sow stalls, such as group housing, are actually more economical too—imagine that. A two-year Iowa State University study showed that “the group housing of gestation sows resulted in a weaned pig cost that was 11 percent less than the cost of a weaned pig from the individual stall confinement system.” Big Ag doesn’t always have to pick sides. Sometimes the more humane is the more efficient too.
What would you like to see as the next trend to be phased out in the food industry? Let us know in the comments.