Animal welfare groups are on a mission to phase out the use of gestation crates by pork producers, and they’re doing it by pressuring distributers to insist that their suppliers make the change. Gestation crates, also referred to as sow stalls, are small cages used in factory farms to confine female breeding pigs called sows. The condition is described as “…asking a sow to live in an airline seat…” by Temple Grandin, animal welfare scientist and associate professor at the Department of Animal Science of Colorado State University, who also calls for the crates to be eliminated from regular farming practices.
A video made by an undercover investigator from the animal welfare organization, Mercy for Animals, brings to light the conditions under which sows have been living at a location owned and operated by Christensen Farms, the country’s top pork producer. The video shows rows of pigs confined in fly infested metal crates fitting tightly around their bodies making it impossible for them to move or lie down comfortably. Pigs live all of their adult lives in these crates, measuring two feet wide, constantly impregnated and constantly immobilized. The video, which is narrated by the game show host Bob Barker, also shows a farm employee severing the tail of a small squealing piglet without the use of anesthesia or pain killers, and another killing a piglet deemed to be unwanted by swinging it and pounding it on the ground.
“I saw pigs with open wounds and bloody pressure sores from rubbing against the bars of their metal cages or lying on hard concrete. Pigs would constantly ram their heads against their tiny stall or spend day after day, hour after hour, biting the bars of their cages out of frustration,” said the Mercy For Animals undercover investigator, who calls himself “John.” That statement was made in an appeal for signatures on an online petition urging Walmart to demand it’s pork suppliers end the use of gestation crates. Mercy for Animals has set up a website, walmartcruelty.com, featuring the aforementioned video, links to the petition and Walmart’s twitter account, as well as the pictures and full names of Walmart executives.
According to the Humane Society of the United States, “more than 5.8 million pigs are used for breeding in the US pork industry,” the majority of which are kept in gestation crates. Sows are often briefly moved into farrowing crates, which are also extremely confined and provide barely enough room to nurse their piglets. Sows are then re-impregnated and returned to gestation crates once their piglets are a few weeks old. Sow pregnancy lasts four months, they are usually impregnated for the first time at seven months old, and they have an average lifespan of 15 years. Due to constrains, lack of bedding material and overall unsanitary conditions; crated sows suffer risk of infections, body sores, weakened bones, and sever psychological distress. Pigs are regarded by veterinary scientists and researches as highly intelligent and conscious animals, which makes them capable of suffering excruciating emotional and mental agony in gestation crate conditions.
Recently, Costco joined other food retailers and fast-food restaurants including Safeway, Kmart, Whole Foods, McDonald’s, Burger King, Chipotle, and others in demanding that their pork suppliers phase out the use of gestation crates. Costco made the demand by sending a letter to its pork suppliers asking for the use of sow stalls to end by the year 2022. The online campaign targeting Walmart is modeled in the same way as the most recently successful campaign targeting Costco involving a website called Costcocruelty.com, which now forwards to the Walmart site.
The use of gestation crates is illegal in all of the European Union and in nine US states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Maine, Michigan, Ohio, Oregon, and Rhode Island. The video produced by the Mercy for Animals investigator is similar to others produced by the Humane Society of the United States; such as this one, released in January, exposing conditions at Seaboard Food and Prestage Farms, and this one , released in May, displaying the effects of gestation crates at a Tyson Foods pork supplier. In February, the Humane Society of the United States filed legal complaints with the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Trade Commission against Seaboard Food regarding the company’s response to the video in which it claimed that the use of gestation crates is standard US industry practice. Seaboard Food is also a Walmart pork supplier.