Is Smithfield Decision Not to Replace Gestation Crates Ethical?

alan-goldbergAlan Goldberg, Ph.D., is a former commissioner of the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production and is a guest blogger today for Livable Future.

The largest pork producer in the world, Smithfield Foods Inc., says it can’t afford to go through with one of its much-ballyhooed animal welfare improvement plans. The company said that it must delay plans to replace its “gestation crates” for pregnant sows with more humane “group housing.” Frankly, the decision comes as no surprise to me. Back in 2007, when the company announced that its 187 Smithfield-owned pig nurseries would be converted within 10 years, the executives refused to admit that the crates were inhumane. Rather, they said their decision was based on consumer preference. If Smithfield were truly concerned about growing consumer awareness and/or preference concerning how animals are raised for food, it would have also required that all of its contract facilities convert within the same 10-year span.

These gestation crates truly are appalling, and some have used the word cruel.  A sow living in a typical industrial facility will spend the majority of her life confined in these metal and concrete stalls that are so small that she can barely lie down, let alone turn around. I won’t belabor how awful gestation crates are – they are awful. Chances are you’ve heard a great deal about them as the Humane Society of the United States and other animal welfare organizations campaigned across the country in efforts to legally have them banned.  So far, six states have laws on the books that ban producers from using gestation crates. The European Union was ahead of the curve, requiring farmers to replace all gestation crates by 2013.

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Mexican Officials Eye Smithfield Facility for Swine Flu

According to the New York Times, health officials in Mexico have toured a million-pig hog farm in Perote, in Veracruz State searching for the original source of the swine flue outbreak . The plant is half-owned by Smithfield Foods, an American company and the world’s largest pork producer.

“Last year the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production warned that hog farms could become breeding grounds for new strains of the flu,” said a report on last night’s CBS Evening News. Bob Martin, former executive director of the Pew Commission, told CBS, “The warm conditions and the close proximity of animals being able to pass viruses back and forth and to the human workers is the situation ripe for the development of a novel virus.”

This morning, the death toll from the outbreak was raised to 152, and the World Health Organization voted to raise its global pandemic flu alert level. More information on the swine flu can be found on the Livable Future Blog.