Cargill Phasing Out Crates for Sows

The Associated Press
Thursday, April 12, 2007

WASHINGTON – Agribusiness company Cargill Inc. has told an animal rights group it is phasing out the use of the small, metal crates that house pregnant pigs.

The decision is the latest example of a U.S. company putting greater emphasis on animal welfare.

Cargill, based in Wayzata, Minn., made the announcement in a recent letter, obtained by The Associated Press, to the Humane Society of the United States. The company was responding to the group's request to follow the lead of Smithfield Foods Inc., the world's largest pork processor, which announced in January it was phasing out the gestation crates.

Dirk Jones, president of Cargill Pork, told the animal rights group that Cargill has been moving to "group sow housing" over the past four years and has converted more than half of its company-owned and contract production farms.

"We are an industry leader, with the conversion process well under way," Jones wrote.

In group sow housing, the adult female pigs are kept in a pen and can walk around. In contrast, the 2-foot-by-7-foot metal gestation crates do not allow the pregnant sows to turn around.

Animal rights groups say the crates are cruel and inhumane.

Last month, Burger King Corp. announced it would increase purchases of pork from suppliers that do not keep their animals in crates. Also, celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck said he would only use crate-free pork.

Paul Shapiro, director of the Humane Society's factory farming campaign, said he was surprised to learn that Cargill had taken steps to use group housing for sows.

"For another agribusiness giant to move away from gestation crate confinement is very significant," he said. "Pigs are extremely intelligent and social animals who suffer immensely when they are confined in individual crates."

Shapiro noted that the European Union has decided to phase them out by 2013, and voters in Florida and Arizona have approved ballot initiatives to ban them over the next few years.

"The writing is on the wall, and this makes it even clearer that gestation crates will be a thing of past," he said.

As of 2005, Cargill was the nation's ninth leading pork producer, according to the National Pork Producers Council. The company, which is privately held, had little to say about its decision.

Cargill spokesman Mark Klein said the letter "speaks for itself."

Dave Warner, a spokesman for the National Pork Producers Council, said that group housing and gestation crates have their advantages and disadvantages.

"In group housings, sows fight, particularly if they're pregnant," he said. "And in a pen with 10 sows, one will be dominant, and the weakest one won't get enough feed."

But Temple Grandin, a leading animal welfare expert who serves on the American Meat Institute's animal welfare committee, said the solution to that problem is better genetic selection. She supports banning gestation crates.