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.
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Photo courtesy of Anne Malleau