This past weekend, Oscar Mayer, one of the biggest names in pork products, announced its plan to eliminate the gestation crate system that confines female pigs in cages. The transition is planned to reach completion by 2022.
“At Oscar Mayer, we believe quality meat begins with quality animal care. We are committed to finding better ways to keep animals healthy and in a safe environment while treating them with respect,” said Sydney Lindner, Associate Director, Corporate Affairs for Oscar Mayer. “This is not only important to us, but also to our consumers who care about animal well-being and comfort.”
Oscar Mayer is working diligently with animal care experts, suppliers and their farm families to find alternatives to traditional gestation stalls to ensure quality animal care, worker safety and an easier transition for farms of all sizes.
The Humane Society of the United States praised the companies’ new comitment:
“Oscar Mayer’s plan for eliminating gestation crates from its supply chain sends a strong message to pork industry leaders who are resisting change,” said Paul Shapiro, vice president of farm animal protection at The Humane Society. “For pigs confined to gestation crates, change can’t come soon enough. Although the company is allowing for a lengthy phase-in of this policy, we’re glad Kraft and Oscar Mayer are on the path to reform and working to improve conditions for pigs.”
And Oscar Mayer is not alone. CKE Restaurants, Inc., operator of more than 3,000 fast food outlets such as Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, has also commited itself to industry change. “CKE has requested that its pork suppliers develop practical and sustainable alternatives to the use of gestation stalls,” said the California-based company, “and to transition to a group-housing environment for sows.”
The Humane Society lists several other instances of similar steps taken forward in ridding the industry of gestation crates:
- McDonald’s, Burger King, Kroger, Safeway, Wendy’s, Denny’s, Cracker Barrel, Sonic, Compass Group and Sodexo recently announced that they will eliminate gestation crates from their supply chains.
- Pork providers Smithfield and Hormel have pledged to end the use of gestation crates at their company-owned facilities by 2017, and Cargill is already 50 percent crate-free.
- Nine U.S. states have passed laws to ban the practice and Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey have bills pending that would do the same.
Though considered a win for animal rights and sustainability advocates, the industry change is also viewed as a cause for concern by some farmers. When Proposition 2, stating all pregnant pigs must be confined in crates permitting the ability to lie down and fully stretch limbs by the year 2015, passed in California in 2008, several farmers looked out beyond the state line to avoid the perceivable economic burden.
Dave Warner, a spokesman for the California Pork Producers Association, enforced that the cages are an important tool for increasing yields and for allowing farmers to provide sows with individual care: “Economics aside, pork producers who use ‘gestation crates’ don’t want to move from them because it is the best system to give [pigs] the care they need.”
Scientifically speaking, studies observing the effects of physical environment on meat quality have resulted in conflicting findings. Some declare room for exercise and social interaction provides a less stressful environment and eventual improved meat quality. Others, conversely, state that environment and exercise makes virtually no difference. Despite this uncertainty, there is not question that Oscar Mayer will succeed in improving the quality of life of these pigs and is honestly responding to the public desire for humane treatment and sustainable practice.
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.