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Our pork chop and bacon habits require a lot of pigs. Which means those in the pork business are in the pregnant sow business. Unfortunately, industry standard "gestation crates" are pretty miserable due to their tiny size.
Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest hog producer, is committed to transitioning all pregnant sows on company-owned farms to group housing systems by the end of 2017. The company is well on its way to meet the goal. As of the end of last year, 87 percent of its company-owned farms house pregnant sows in group systems.
Smithfield recommends that all of its contract sow grocers in the U.S. transition to group housing by the end of 2022. Although it is only a recommendation, the company states in its latest sustainability report that “if growers choose not to participate, their current contracts will remain unchanged, although extensions are less likely.”
Smithfield was first was the first in the industry to make the commitment to transition from gestation crates to group housing. And it is confident it can meet that commitment by the end of this year. “This year is our anniversary year and we believe we are right on track to meet the commitment,” Stewart Leeth, Vice President of Regulatory Affairs and Chief Sustainability Officer of Smithfield Foods told CR Magazine.
About 10 years ago, Smithfield made its commitment to transition to group housing “in large part because many of our customers were asking for this,” Leeth explains. He said that with the new system for the “majority of the time that the animal is pregnant, she's housed in a group setting.”
Leeth explained how the new housing system works. There are stalls used initially when the animal's pregnancy is confirmed. Once the sow is confirmed pregnant, she is put into a group housing system. When she is ready to give birth she goes to a separate farm with housing designed for the farrowing, or the birth of the piglets. It is a “stall system where she can lay down and the piglets can move into other areas of the stall so they don't get hurt or crushed as they sometimes do in the old-fashioned way of raising animals,” Leeth said.
All of the employees on its company-owned farms, its contract hog producers, and plant employees have to follow the Animal Care Management System. Part of that system is what Leeth terms “vigorous auditing.” The farms that the company owns and operates are audited at least once a year. The audits cover things like employee competency on animal handling and husbandry, the equipment, the facilities, management, animal health, veterinary practices, the conditions of the animal, and the outcomes of the farm. “We have third party auditors on our farms, as well,” Leeth added.
“We set about and got every one of our farms plants at the time certified, and that's still the case today,” Leeth said. “We were the first in our industry to do that in terms of livestock and food production.”
“We're excited about that because we were the first in our industry to set a 25 percent reduction goal by 2025 over our entire value chain,” Leeth said. “It encompasses our farms, our plants, and our own supply chain."
Smithfield proves that the world’s largest hog producer can treat farm animals humanely and tackle climate change. In short, the company is an industry leader in sustainability.
Image credit: Smithfield Foods
Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.