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24 June 2001 Issue
Washington Post Does It Again

 

Last month, the Washington Post did that story on IBP and other slaughterhouses, perhaps the issue's first national exposure in the mainstream media, and it did a live online interview with Gail Eisnitz the same day that story broke - now this!! Way to go, Washington Post!

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A12663-2001Jun17.html 

In Pig Farming, Growing Concern

By Marc Kaufman

Washington Post Staff Writer

Monday, June 18, 2001; Page A1

YORKVILLE, Ill. Inside each of John Kellogg's barns, long rows of grunting, snorting hogs fill every available space. The rows contain 100 animals all pregnant or soon to be. Every animal faces the same direction in a scene of orderliness seldom associated with pigs.

The animals are not lining up by choice: Each stands inside a narrow metal crate. The pigs, which can reach 600 pounds, will spend much of their three or four years of adult life inside these crates, unable to turn around or even lie down fully because the stalls are just two feet wide. Only

when caring for piglets will the sows live outside them for long, and then in different metal crates only slightly wider so they can recline to nurse.

This farm outside Chicago is by all accounts a model of pork industry efficiency, cleanliness and productivity, and the metal "gestation crates" are nothing unusual in the nation's highly industrialized pork business. In fact, Kellogg's stalls are the norm for the fast-growing industry, holding most of the 5 million sows that give birth to 100 million piglets yearly for the ham, bacon and pork chops on America's plates.

But critics of this kind of intensive pig farming people ranging from animal welfare activists to academic researchers and some big pork buyers have been raising increasingly pointed and sometimes emotional objections to the crates. Some call the practice inherently cruel, some call it offensive because the confinement produces abnormal behaviors in relatively intelligent animals, and some worry it could endanger the pork industry if consumers begin to focus on it. In the name of progress, the critics ask, has the industry created a callous system that many people will find objectionable?

Those concerns are being translated into efforts to ban or curtail use of the crates. The European Union, where animal welfare is a hot political issue, is close to adopting legislation that would phase out the stalls within 10 years a decision that could have international trade implications. In Florida, American animal welfare groups are collecting signatures to place a similar statewide ban on the use of sow crates on next year's ballot, as an opening shot in a national campaign here.

A ban on gestation crates is also part of a new American Humane Association certification process for pork (and other farm products) introduced last year. The voluntary program, which is approved by the Agriculture Department, allows pig producers willing to avoid controversial farm practices to place the group's "Free Farmed" label on their meat and poultry.

[snip]

"Farmers treat their animals well because that's just good business," said Paul Sundberg, a veterinarian and National Pork Producers Council vice president. "The key to sow welfare isn't whether they are kept in individual crates or group housing, but whether the system used is well managed."

Sundberg contended that "science tells us that she [a sow] doesn't even seem to know that she can't turn. . . . She wants to eat and feel safe, and she can do that very well in individual stalls."

But Sundberg acknowledged there is active scientific dispute over the effects on sows although he also complained some of the protest comes from vegetarians who don't want people to eat meat at all.

[snip]

"If you look at the wide range of factory farm abuses, you can make a strong case that this is the worst of all confinement methods because it lasts so long," said Wayne Pacelle, whose U.S. Humane Association, along with Farm Sanctuary, are involved in the Florida effort. "That's certainly what the Europeans have concluded, and we want people to know that."

The industry and its critics are not proposing larger stalls to resolve the issue. Instead, some pork producers and Texas Tech University have experimented with outdoor and group systems for raising sows that are as effective and productive as the stalls, McGlone said. On his research farm outside Lubbock, sows and their piglets live on fields outdoors, with small metal hoop huts for protection.

"The industry may not think that crates are a problem, but what if consumers disagree?" McGlone said. "It's time to seriously look at the alternatives."

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