The Humane Society has joined forces with a green investment firm and a religious organization to pressure the world’s second-largest pork producer to revamp the way it treats its livestock.
Tyson Foods, based in Springdale, Ark. is under pressure by its stockholders to abandon the controversial gestation crates that have historically been used to raise pigs. The meat producer has been warned that if it doesn’t take steps to change the way it rears livestock, it may lose its enviable market position.
Tyson’s shareholders submitted a resolution after The Humane Society and Boston-based Green Century Capital Management filed a proposal urging Tyson to change the way it gestates its pigs. United Methodist Church Benefit Board co-filed a proposal as well. The meat company is being urged to disclose the risks that continual use of gestation crates could pose to shareholders.
Traditional gestation crates are extremely small and are designed to restrict the pig’s ability to move or turn around. Companies that use the crates have come under increasing scrutiny and criticism by animal rights activists.
“Gestation crates are cruel, outdated, and unnecessary. Americans simply don’t support locking animals up in cages barely larger than their own bodies and letting them languish for months on end,” said Matthew Prescott, food policy director for the Humane Society of the United States.
Many of Tyson’s competitors have already begun transitioning away from this practice. Pork producer Cargill has announced that it is already 50 percent crate-free, while Hormel Foods, the world’s largest pork producer, and Smithfield Foods estimate that they will be crate-free within five years.
A 2013 survey of pork producers by the National Pork Board found that more than half of its members are either crate-free or plan to transition to group housing of sows. Studies by Iowa State University found that "group housing...resulted in a weaned pig cost that was 11 percent less than the cost of a weaned pig from the individual stall confinement system."
Earlier this year, the New Jersey legislature attempted to ban the use of gestation crates. The measure passed in the State Assembly and Senate with wide margins (60 to 5 and 29 to 4, respectively). However, the measure was later vetoed by Governor Chris Christie.
An increasing number of retailers, including the fast food restaurants McDonald's and Wendy’s and the grocery retailer Costco have said they are moving away from doing business with suppliers that use gestation crates.
Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.