Smithfield & Maple Leaf Farms will phase out gestation crates
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2007:
SMITHFIELD, Virginia–Smithfield Foods, the largest U.S.
pig farming conglomerate and a major producer abroad, on January 25,
2007 announced that it will begin a 10-year phaseout of gestation
Gestation crates are used to keep pregnant and nursing sows
immobile for more than three years of their typical four-year
lifespan before slaughter. During that time the sows usually birth
and nurse five to eight litters of about a dozen pigs each.
Smithfield captured 26% of the U.S. pork market in 2006,
raising 14 million pigs at U.S. facilities, and killing 27 million
of the 60 million who went to slaughter. Smithfield revenues came to
All 187 Smithfield-owned pig nurseries and all farmers
contracting to raise pigs for Smithfield are to move to housing sows
in group pens. Smithfield vice president for environmental and
corporate affairs Dennis Treacy said that the company will house
anywhere from six to 55 pigs in each pen, depending on what kind of
retrofitting the design of each individual barn allows.
Smithfield staff will be retrained, Treacy added, to
prevent fighting among pigs, often claimed as a reason for crating.
But there are more basic reasons for crating, noted Raleigh
News & Observer staff writer Kristin Collins. “Because crated sows
can’t turn around,” Collins explained, “their waste falls neatly
through the slatted floor under their back feet and never
contaminates the food trough that runs through the fronts of the
cages. And the sows are safely contained when it’s time to
artificially inseminate them.”
Insisted Treacy, “We didn’t do this in reaction to
activists’ requests, and no customer said they would take away
business if we didn’t do it. We are trying to be proactive and
respond to what we think the customers want. This will not overly
stress our system.”
“Smithfield officials defended the use of the crates, but
said their own research had concluded that they could be replaced by
group pens without any long-term problems or cost increases,”
reported Washington Post staff writer Marc Kaufman.
The McDonald’s restaurant chain and WalMart had reportedly
asked Smithfield and other pig producers to quit using gestation
crates, after a panel of outside experts appointed by McDonald’s
concluded that gestation crates are especially vulnerable to humane
criticism and easily done away with. The panel, reviewing all
animal handling practices of McDonald’s suppliers, was appointed in
fulfillment of a 1994 agreement negotiated with McDonald’s by
Coalition for Nonviolent Food founder Henry Spira, who died in
“McDonald’s hailed the Smithfield decision,” wrote Kaufman,
“saying it was in line with advice it got from panel member Temple
Grandin in particular,” a Colorado State University professor of
psychology and agricultural science who worked closely with Spira for
more than 15 years, initially seeking to reform kosher slaughter.
Grandin identified stereotypical head-waving and gnawing on the metal
bars of gestation crates as common signs of crated sows in distress.
“It’s a big step, but it’s not quick enough,” Colorado
State University professor of agricultural ethics Bernard Rollin told
Lauren Etten of the Wall Street Journal.
“I can’t think of anything more important in terms of humane
treatment of animals that has occurred in the agribusiness sector,”
said Humane Society of the U.S. president Wayne Pacelle. “This
decision changes the dynamic of the industry. It will be very hard
for other companies to not follow Smithfield.”
HSUS and Farm Sanctuary funded ballot initiatives that banned
gestation crates in Florida in 2004 and in Arizona in 2006.
Neither Florida nor Arizona hosts many pig farms, but both
are home to hundreds of thousands of retirees of the generations who
eat by far the most pork per capita.
The United Kingdom banned gestation crates in 1999. The
European Union has committed to phasing them out by 2013.
The Winnipeg Humane Society urged Manitoba pig producers to
follow the Smithfield lead. Maple Leaf Foods, the largest Canadian
producer, on January 31 agreed to phase out gestation crates in
favour of group housing at the farms it owns, which supply about
120,000 pigs per year. Maple Leaf slaughters nearly half a million
pigs per year, nearly a third of the Canadian total.
“This is the most significant farm animal welfare advance in
Canadian history,” said Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals director
John Youngman, echoing Pacelle.
However, Maple Leaf is downsizing its pig-rearing
operations. Only about 50,000 pigs per year will actually be raised
in group housing, according to current company plans.
National Pork Producers Council chief executive Neil Dierks
pointed out that the American Veterinary Medical Association
continues to endorse gestation crating–which leaves the AVMA
trailing behind the perceptions of the industry leaders. The AVMA in
2004 barred the Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights from
tabling against gestation crates at the AVMA annual conference, and
then extended the ban to the Animal Welfare Institute in 2005. AWI
had exhibited at the AVMA conference on various themes 21 times
during the preceding 42 years.
The Smithfield and Maple Leaf announcements overshadowed
another in a series of legal setbacks for Farm Sanctuary in a
multi-year effort to sue CorcPork Inc., of Corcorcan, California,
for alleged cruelty to pigs in using gestation crates. Originally
dismissed in 2005, the case was again rejected in the third week of
January 2007 by the 2nd District Court of Appeals in Los Angeles.
Farm Sanctuary pledged to appeal again, to the California Supreme
Both the lower court and the 2nd District Court of Appeals
held that Farm Sanctuary lacks standing to bring the case, under
Proposition 64, a California law that bans private parties from
suing a business unless the business has demonstrably harmed them
personally and financially.
As the 2nd District Court of Appeals verdict was anticipated,
the Animal Legal Defense Fund, East Bay Animal Advocates, and three
individual activists filed a similar case against CorcPork,
apparently hoping to find another way around the standing problem.
“Also named as a defendant is Clougherty Packing Co., which
sells products under the Farmer John brand,” reported Jim Doyle of
the San Francisco Chronicle. “Clougherty, a Los Angeles-based
subsidiary of Hormel Foods Corp., is the state’s leading pork
packer. The individual plaintiffs, who claim to have purchased and
consumed Farmer John products, accuse the brand of fraudulent
business practices by allegedly misleading consumers in ads that say
that the pigs were raised in ‘a family tradition since 1931.'”
The Humane Farming Association meanwhile succeeded in
bringing cruelty charges against key personnel at a pig farm in
Creston, Ohio, targeted in full-page ads in the December 2006 and
January/February 2007 editions of ANIMAL PEOPLE.
Owner Ken Wiles, 54, was charged with two counts of
allegedly depriving animals of veterinary care, food, and water.
General manager Joseph Wiles, 22, was charged with six counts of
cruelty for similar alleged offenses, plus allegedly carrying
animals in a cruel or inhumane manner, and torturing, beating,
mutilating, or killing animals in violation of the law. Employee
Dusty Stroud, 18, was charged with two counts of beating and
Each charges carries a potential penalty of 90 days in jail
and a $750 fine.
The charges “stem from incidents occurring between April 1
and November 9, 2005,” summarized Wooster Daily Record staff writer
Christine L. Pratt. “Activity at the farm was investigated after an
HFA field investigator contacted the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office in
“This is a very important case. It’s not every day you see a
case of animal cruelty as serious as this,” HFA president Brad
Miller told Pratt at the arraignment. “There were piglets being
smashed head-first into poles, and large hogs being slowly
HFA placed the same full-page ads that appeared in ANIMAL
PEOPLE in Ohio newspapers to rally public opinion in favor of the
“`We’re very pleased that charges were filed,” Miller told
Bill Lilley of the Akron Beacon-Journal. “But we believe there
finally should be jail time for animal abuse in Ohio. Right now it
is just a misdemeanor, but in many states [this case] would warrant
a felony charge.”
Pig farmers have previously been successfully prosecuted for
deliberately starving pigs, a charge central to the Wiles case.
Most notably, Piggy Bar Farms owner Daryl Larson, of Delmar, Iowa,
ran into trouble for starving as many as 3,000 pigs in 1993, 1994,
1995, 1997, and 1998 on several different premises in both Iowa
and Missouri. Eventually convicted in both states, Larson was
fined more than $17,500.