Whole Story

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No Gestation Crates for Our Pigs

By Frances Flower, March 22, 2012  |  Meet the Blogger  |  More Posts by Frances Flower

In the last few weeks, there’s been a lot of hype in the press surrounding several large companies committing to phasing out gestation crates at their pig facilities by 2017; we think this is very encouraging news.

At Whole Foods Market®, we’ve prohibited the use of both gestation and farrowing crates by all of our pork suppliers since 2003. While it’s good to see more companies finally jumping on the bandwagon, it can’t happen soon enough, in our opinion! Gestation crates or sow stalls confine sows throughout their pregnancy (almost 4 months).

The crates typically measure 7 feet by 2 feet, which only allows enough room for the pregnant sow to get up and lie down — she can never turn around. So why are gestation crates used at all? Back in the 1960’s and 70’s, demand for cheaper meat essentially forced most farmers to raise hogs in barns so that they could produce more pork without having to increase their farm size.

By keeping sows in individual stalls, farmers can monitor how much each sow is eating, determine if a sow is getting sick, prevent sows from fighting each other and provide more individualized care. (Farrowing crates are used when sows deliver piglets; sows are kept in farrowing crates for about 2 to 3 weeks until the piglets are weaned).

Over the last 20 years or so, animal welfare scientists have proven that not only do sows in crates and stalls show abnormal repetitive behaviors such as bar chewing — repeated chewing on the metal bar directly in front of the sow indicating boredom and frustration — but they can go into a state of learned helplessness or apathy.

Additionally, they are prone to leg problems due to inactivity. But not all pig farmers raise their sows this way! At Whole Foods Market, our pork suppliers are audited every 15 months to the Global Animal Partnership 5-Step™ Animal Welfare Rating Program.

Third party inspectors verify that no crates or stalls (gestation or farrowing) are used to manage or raise pigs as well as verify over 110 other animal welfare standards. Rather than use crates or stalls, our farmers keep sows in groups during their pregnancy so they have the freedom to move around and choose where they want to lie down.

You can read more about step-rated pork in this blog post. We can’t wait for more companies to join us and phase out gestation and farrowing crates.

Tell us what you think!

Photo courtesy of Anne Malleau

Category: Meat, Animal Welfare




Lindsey says ...
How about encouraging people to go vegetarian, and then they won't have to worry about if their "food" was humanely raised. It's sad that so many people think their appetite is more important than a sentient being's right to life.
03/22/2012 2:21:27 PM CDT
John H says ...
I'm doing my part to encourage people to go vegetarian. I'm eating as many pigs, cows, deer, rabbits, fish & fowl as I can, thus reducing the number available for others to eat... and yes, my appetite is by far much more important than the life of some pig or cow... thank you for noticing
03/27/2012 5:26:33 AM CDT
David E says ...
I have always wondered what the effects are of crating livestock in confided cages. Especially, before supermarket entities sell them to individuals at the market. I am astounded at the potential effects it could have on the pigs and the livestock themselves. I am not an animal activist but this has truly been an educational article. I am also glad to hear that Whole Foods engages in animal welfare practices. This is something I will definitely take into account when buying meat products from Whole Foods as I think it’s wonderful that they provide individualized care for their pigs and livestock. Once again, good job Whole Foods. David E Tulane University Freeman School of Business
03/28/2012 4:01:06 PM CDT
Louise Baker says ...
Whether vegetable or animal, I am for healthy and safe growing and gathering/slaughtering practices. People who are vegetarians should be watching the farms and or certified organic labels to make sure they are not eating GMO's, pesticides, and hybrids which is another way of taking the God given life properties out of vegetables. Finding anything pure anymore is almost if not completly impossible especially with vegetables as bee's polen goes from crop to crop in natural outddoor setting. So, we make our own choices and do the best we can with what we have. I do not get upset with anyone in their food choices, as, so far it is their choice. Although the current whitehouse administration is wanting to control that in all aspects of our lives. oops, getting off point!
03/28/2012 5:47:57 PM CDT
Louise Baker says ...
One last point. I will not eat anything that is not certified organic in the meat, poultry, and dairy items in particular. My main concern is antibiotics, pesticides, and horrid unsafe things put in the animals feed.
03/28/2012 5:52:37 PM CDT
Wendy says ...
I'm with John H
03/28/2012 6:03:11 PM CDT
Lydia Sugarman says ...
Farrowing crates have their place. My dad would place sows going into labor in the crates because they can turn on their piglets and kill and eat them or lie down on them. But, once those dangers were past, usually 2-3 days at most, they were returned to their "normal" life, roaming around with piglets tagging behind.
03/28/2012 6:39:36 PM CDT
sonya says ...
no offense intended but i think balance is in order here...no. 1..it takes a lot of 'land' to grow veggies and the land used to grow crops is land taken f/the animal habitat! we are by nature and our dna omnivores...like it or not...every hunter-gather group eats meat when ever possible...they live on instinct alone and not 'propaganda'...sorry if i offend some of u but the truth needs to said!
03/28/2012 6:45:56 PM CDT
susan says ...
well Lydia, you dad must be the exception because most industrial farms have the pigs live their entire breeding lives in gestation crates. I can't even imagine how these (more intelligent than your family dog) animals live without going just plain crazy.
03/28/2012 7:54:16 PM CDT
Henie says ...
Yea Whole Foods! It is beliefs/reasons precisely as those in your article above that I choose to shop at your stores. I do what I can to act responsibly toward ALL living creatures (not just people) - and you do the same. Thank you and keep up your most excellent beliefs/values! Henie St. Louis, MO
03/28/2012 8:30:01 PM CDT
Dolores MacKenzie says ...
I think it's is inhuman to treat pigs or any animal with such disregard because they do feel pain. I shop at Whole Foods because I trust their products.
03/28/2012 8:51:35 PM CDT
Becca says ...
Vegetarians are consumers just as any other.From seed to table. :) Everything in moderation; over eating of anything can make you sick. I think it is a very wise thing for people to investigate their "food". People,Planet and Animals should be cared for. Best thing to do is not point at anyone. Three fingers usually point back when you do....... The whole food story is stating how they are making a difference. I don't know of another grocery store who has done so much GOOD. I worked for a grocer who paid min. wage, drained the life out of me :( and tried to dictate my purchases back into their own store.(NO not a discount)! Can you imagine what happens to the people and animals during the process of "junk" products they sell!
03/28/2012 8:51:42 PM CDT
Adam says ...
I appreciate that Whole Foods has established the standards they have and put a lot of research and effort into the Welfare Rating program. That being said, I also believe the only truly humane choice is to simply not eat animals, and not have them raised them for food. After all, they're still living beings that want only to live, just as we do. They still face the same fate in the end when they are slaughtered. No matter which way you look at it, killing is an inherently violent act, and there is no such thing as humane violence.
03/28/2012 8:59:35 PM CDT
Ana M. says ...
In response to John, March 27: I became a vegetarian 19 years ago, at age 21 when I found out how horrid factory-farming is. I'm not totally against others eating meat now, when meat is "humanely raised". I hope all meat is like that someday soon (sure, that means less meat per carnivore per week, but you'd still be getting meat, right?). And I wish YOU could be placed in a crate for just a few weeks, 24 hrs a day -- You can't move freely, have no TV, have no interaction with others, ETC. ETC. (If u don't have a heart attack by the weekend, go rent the movie Buried, or the Argentine movie The Secret in their Eyes)
03/28/2012 9:05:52 PM CDT
Mel says ...
I absolutely love that Whole Foods has partnered with the Global Animal Partnership. I'm so pleased to know where the meat I'm consuming is coming from - and that the animals were treated in a humane way with care and concern. I no longer eat meat that is of unknown origin, and I'm so pleased to support your store and the Global Animal Partnership!! (as well as supporting great farming practices!!) :)
03/28/2012 9:25:05 PM CDT
Ramona Ingrassia says ...
Why wait until 2017! That means so much more suffering and torture. It's bad enough to be raised to be eaten and that's your purpose on this planet, but to be tortured until then is gastly. If they could have a decent life and enjoy the very short time they have before people gobble them up, why not make it as pleasant as possible and nurturing so they go out in style and in a painless fashion. Is that too much to ask?
03/28/2012 10:07:21 PM CDT
Danielle L. Atherton says ...
Thank you, Whole Foods, for paying attention to your target market and trying to be true to what you represent. Gene Bauer of Farm Animal Sanctuary and those that support this incredible movement have made this possible by advocating in Washington D.C. to change the inhumane agricultural processing to one that is held with, at least, dignity and better standards of care. Here is the link, if you want to know more! It's incredible...what they do, and what they have done. My entire family supports them, too. Adopt a rescue or stay informed about advocacy. http://farmsanctuary.org/about/leadership.html -Danielle Atherton Licensed Esthetician/Registered Nurse
03/28/2012 11:41:15 PM CDT
Maggie L says ...
Good job, Whole Foods! Keep up the good work.
03/28/2012 11:55:46 PM CDT
Kathy says ...
What difference does it make since they will be slaughtered anyway?
03/29/2012 2:01:10 AM CDT
Christina says ...
I am so happy that WF has been doing this with pork farmers! It's a small step in the right direction that I wish more companies would follow. Now we just have to follow the lead and do the same for all other animals that are caged for production. I think in these times more families are becoming aware of the different ways animals are treated and are making more eco-conscious decisions as to how they purchase meats and whom they purchase meats from. My mom told me, if she knew back in the day what she knows now about factory farming she would have never fed me and my brother meats. It goes to show you how far education regarding our food supply has come.
03/29/2012 9:05:49 AM CDT
Eric says ...
If the other grocery chains would start a numbering system, like Whole Foods, and explain what it means, then I'm pretty sure more people would be eating humanely-raised meat. Think of it, your big-chain grocer puts a "-5" on their meat, which they tell you means the animal was kept in a crate, never allowed to move around, had to be forced fed and finally bulldozed to the slaughterhouse. That $.99/lb ground beef isn't so appetizing anymore, huh?
03/29/2012 10:16:57 AM CDT
Megan says ...
@Ramona We agree, why wait? We're proud that at Whole Foods Market we’ve prohibited the use of both gestation and farrowing crates by all of our pork suppliers since 2003. We hope all suppliers and grocers will follow our lead.
03/29/2012 11:13:38 AM CDT
Randy says ...
How can anyone eat meat? Shame on WF for trying to act like it is responsible. They are one of the biggest reasons factory farms exist. Don't let them lie to you, with the volume of pork they supply in their stores it would be impossible to keep up with demand raising pigs in this way. Such a sham and stock photos.
03/29/2012 11:44:27 AM CDT
Lilly S. says ...
Let's see..I'm on my third bout with breast cancer. Not because I'm overweight, eat junk food or don't exercise, but because my DNA has been tweaked somewhere in my early young life. How? Most likely poisoned by the food bought (and eaten) from the big chain stores. I enter these stores with great apprehension. Checking every label/ingredient of any item I am considering purchasing. Whole Foods is the only place I feel safe. Thank you for doing all the caring for your customers...
03/29/2012 2:27:54 PM CDT
Ana M. says ...
I was about to tell Ramona: Well said, thank you :) Then I saw that Whole Foods already acknowledged :)
03/29/2012 3:02:50 PM CDT