Earlier this month, Tyson Foods sent a letter to the hog farmers who supply it with pork asking them to adopt more humane practices. The letter asked hog farmers to stop using manual blunt force to euthanize sick or injured piglets and improve housing for pregnant sows. Using manual blunt force “may not match the expectations of today’s customers or consumers,” the letter stated. Tyson is requiring contract farmers to end the use of blunt force euthanasia and adopt more humane methods by the end of 2014. When it comes to housing, the letter points out to farmers that sow housing “should allow sows of all sizes to stand, turn around, lie down and stretch their legs.” Contract farmers are asked to implement improved sow housing beginning in 2014.
The letter also asks pig farmers to increase oversight of their operations. One of the practices pig farmers are asked to adopt is video monitoring to increase oversight. The letter stated that video monitoring “is a tool that can improve on-farm animal care and help avoid animal mistreatment,” that can also “help reduce biosecurity risks.” Tyson is asking farmers it contracts with to install video monitoring systems by the end of 2014.
The company is in the second year of an animal well-being program called FarmCheck. The program includes on-site farm audits and an Animal Well-Being Advisory Panel. As part of the program, Tyson will increase third-party sow farm audits in 2014. The company started conducting third-party audits in 2012.
The announcement and the letter come just weeks before Tyson’s shareholders are set to vote on a resolution that asks the company to disclose the financial and operational risks associated with the use of gestation crates. The Humane Society of the U.S., Green Century Capital Management, and the United Methodist Church Benefit Board, Inc. co-filed the shareholder resolution in August. “Rising concerns over these cages have rapidly shifted the marketplace, with dozens of top global food brands—including Tyson customers—demanding change,” the proposal stated. “Tyson’s failure to disclose the risks associated with the indefinite inclusion of gestation crates in its supply chain is of concern to shareholders.”
Smithfield recommends its contract sow farmers convert from gestation crates to group housing
The same week as Tyson’s announcement, Smithfield announced that it is recommending all of its contract sow farmers to convert housing for pregnant sows from gestation crates to group housing. The company is asking sow farmers to convert to group housing by 2022 and will use a “sliding scale of incentives to accelerate that timetable,” according to a press release. Sow farmers who make the commitment to switch to group housing will receive contract extensions once the switch is complete. In 2007, Smithfield committed to converting all of the pregnant sows on its company owned U.S. farms from gestation crates to group housing by 2017. The company’s international pig farms will complete their conversions to group housing by 2022. Smithfield’s company owned pig farms in Poland and Romania finished converting to group housing “a number of years ago.”
Consumer demand is driving the shift away from inhumane pig farming practices
Many major companies have made commitments to eliminate sow gestation crates from their supply chains, including Burger King, McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Subway, Oscar Mayer, Kroger, Safeway, Costco, Denny’s and Jack in the Box. Consumer demand is one of the drivers in the shift away from inhumane pig farming practices, as Josh Balk, Director of Corporate Policy for the HSUS, pointed out to me last summer during an interview. Balk said that how farm animals are treated “causes a more visceral reaction,” Balk points out. “Most people have pets and that’s their connection with animals. We would be outraged if our cats and dogs were treated this way.”
Photo: Ed Mitchell