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Humane Society says gestation crates come with high price

By Janet Kubat Willette

Date Modified: 11/21/2012 1:21 PM

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ROCHESTER, Minn. – The Humane Society of the United States says the general public is opposed to gestation crates and its president and CEO wonders how long the pork industry will continue to defend the practice.

"The question is 'is the pork industry going to continue to defend an extreme practice and damage its long term brand?'" Wayne Pacelle asked during a recent visit with Agri News. Pacelle was in Rochester to sign copies of his new book, "The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals and Our Call to Defend Them," at Barnes and Noble.

The National Pork Producers Council defends producers' right to use gestation crates and said it will continue to fight for producer rights.

Pacelle said gestation crates are one of the most extreme and inhumane methods used in modern agriculture. Sows are immobilized for a period of three or four years, he said. That is not acceptable from an animal welfare and animal behavior perspective, he said.

Michigan State surveyed voters in 37 pig producing states and found a strong majority in opposition to gestation crates. HSUS is not arguing against farrowing crates.

Group housing isn't revolutionary within the pork industry, Pacelle said. It's only the sow herd, 5.5 million hogs, who are housed in crates. Most of the nation's 110 million hogs are in group housing, he said.

The National Pork Producers Council hasn't criticized the 17 percent of the industry that voluntarily switched to group housing, he said. This includes Smithfield, the nation's largest pork producer, and Hormel, which are both converting 100 percent of their sow housing to group housing by 2017.

"All of that really speaks to the practicality of our idea," Pacelle said. "If you've got 17 percent already converted, if you've got Smithfield, if you've got McDonalds and others, how can you possibly say with a straight face that this is not workable?"

Pacelle pointed to a recent story in Feedstuffs that quoted Ted Friend, an animal scientist from Texas A&M. Friend said the writing is on the wall, the industry will have to transition away from gestation crates. He used to be an ardent advocate of gestation crates, Pacelle said. Temple Grandin is also against gestation crates.

There has also been an incredible exodus by the nation's major food retailers from the idea that gestation crates are acceptable, he said. The HSUS has made at least 35 announcements this year with major food retailers about their pledges to phase out the purchase of pork from

operations who use gestation crates.

"When your customer base is fleeing, Costco, Kroger, Safeway, Sysco, Sodexo, McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, Carl's Jr, Hardees . . . when your customer base is fleeing, you've got to re-assess how you're conducting your business operation," Pacelle said.

"There is a price incentive because they're losing their customers," he said. "They're not going to be able to sell their pork if they don't have companies to buy it."

Pacelle said he has been in hog barns that use group housing and barns that have gestation stalls.

Pigs are herd animals, he said. They have dealt with one another in social groups for a long time.

"I'm not sure what the argument is," Pacelle said. "It's really . . . the argument is you've got to be a good farmer and make sure that you are doing the proper breeding and husbandry to make sure that there's not aggressive behavior that causes suffering. But pigs have been dealing with other pigs for a long time.

"It's true that there's less aggression with gestation crates, but it's too high a price to pay from an animal welfare perspective . . . too high a price, you know, morally."