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!
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
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
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.
"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
"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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