TULSA, Okla. – The yearslong call by animal rights groups to improve conditions on American hog farms advanced considerably this week when two of the country’s biggest meat companies urged producers to change how pregnant sows are housed, and one announced it wanted to stop the practice of killing sick or injured animals by “manual blunt force.”
Tyson Foods sent new animal welfare guidelines to its 3,000 independent hog suppliers on Wednesday – roughly six weeks after gruesome video from an Oklahoma farm showed some animals being struck with bowling balls and others being slammed onto a concrete floor. And Smithfield Foods announced Tuesday it would ask growers to move pregnant sows from gestation crates to group housing by 2022.
The change in corporate policy comes after decades of lobbying and protests from animal rights groups and a trend that saw more food retailers and restaurant chains moving away from suppliers who implemented the controversial hog-raising practices on farms.
The planned overhaul was lauded by several animal rights groups, some of whom had campaigned against gestation crates, which they deemed institutionalized animal abuse and considered an outdated and unnecessary practice. “Gestation crates” are cramped, often-foul stalls that barely allow a sow to take a step forward or backward and have been used for decades.
Tyson said it is urging pork producers to improve housing conditions for gestating sows enough to allow sows of all sizes to stand, turn around, lie down and stretch their legs.
Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson said the Arkansas-based company hasn’t taken a position against any particular type of housing, but wants producers to “improve housing systems for pregnant sows by focusing on both the quality and quantity of space provided, whether it involves gestation stalls, pens or some other type of housing.”
Smithfield, the world’s largest pork producer, had previously said it was phasing out gestation crates at its U.S. facilities by 2017. The Virginia-based company has transitioned 54 percent of its pregnant sows to group housing so far and said in a statement this week that “animal care is one of our core sustainability commitments, and we are proud of our employee and company efforts to meet this goal.”
Tyson also said it would require by the end of the year that farmers who manage company-owned sows end the long-standing industry practice of blunt-force euthanasia in favor of alternative methods in line with American Veterinary Medical Association guidelines.