Stalls criticized by animal rights advocates
Troy Media – by Alan MacKenzie
Grocery giant Safeway announced last week that it will begin formulating plans to have a gestation stall-free pork supply chain, following similar announcements from several North American restaurant chains.
“It is Safeway’s goal to have a gestation stall-free supply chain,” Safeway vice president of public affairs Brian Dowling said. “With that in mind, the company is formulating plans to determine how it can reach that goal.”
Hog gestation stalls are narrow two-feet-wide cages used to confine breeding sows and have been criticized in recent years due to animal welfare concerns, according to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).
“Safeway’s decision to move away from gestation crates is welcome and encouraging news,” Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, said. “Given the scope and quantity of pork products sold by Safeway, this announcement is an important step in addressing animal welfare in the company’s supply chain.”
Safeway is one of the largest food and drug retailers in North America, operating 1,678 stores in the U.S. and Western Canada.
Several pork producers, fast food chains and foodservice company Compass Group have all recently announced moves toward cutting out the use of gestation stalls.
McDonald’s announced in February that it now requires its U.S. suppliers to outline their plans to phase out the use of sow gestation stalls.
“In May, after receiving our suppliers’ plans, we’ll share results from the assessment and our next steps,” Dan Gorsky, senior vice president of McDonald’s North America supply chain management, said at the time.
According to a release from McDonald’s, major U.S. suppliers such as Cargill and Smithfield Foods are adopting “commercially-viable alternatives.”
Fellow quick service chains Wendy’s, Burger King and Tim Hortons followed with similar plans.
Wendy’s said in March that it is working with its U.S. and Canadian suppliers to eliminate the use of gestation stalls “over time.”
Last month Burger King announced plans to transition its U.S. supply chain to only purchase pork from suppliers that will stop using gestation crates by 2017. However, at this time, these plans are only for the chain’s U.S. operations, according to a Burger King Canada media spokesperson.
On May 4, Tim Hortons, the largest publicly-traded restaurant chain in Canada, called upon the pork industry and its suppliers to eliminate gestation stalls for sows by the end of this year.
A U.S. pork group, however, has been critical of the moves away from gestation stalls, noting the costliness to hog farmers.
“With regard to Safeway’s decision to give preference to pork suppliers who phase out individual sow housing, the National Pork Producers Council is concerned that similar actions taken by governments – or other restaurant or grocery chains – have increased production costs and consumer prices. These actions have forced some hog farmers out of business or caused them to reduce operations, with no demonstrable health benefits to sows,” National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) president R. C. Hunt said in a statement.
He noted NPPC supports the position taken by the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Association of Swine Veterinarians, which recognize gestation stalls as “appropriate for providing for the well-being of sows during pregnancy.”
“While NPPC respects the right of companies to make business decisions that are in their best interests, it seems that Safeway was intimidated by an animal rights group whose ultimate goal is the elimination of food-animal production,” he stated.
The Canadian Pork Council (CPC) last week said Canadian hog producers are taking an active role in animal welfare with the start of a national Animal Care Assessment program. The program sets out animal care requirements and an oversight system ensures the requirements are being met.
CPC noted the current focus for the industry is the review of the existing code of practice for pigs. A revised code will update guidelines for pig care on housing, health, nutrition and other animal husbandry practices through a multi-stakeholder process.