Smithfield Foods Inc., the nation's largest hog producer and a leading processor and marketer of fresh pork and processed meats, is phasing out individual gestation stalls and replacing them with group housing over the next 10 years.
The Smithfield, Va., based company announced its decision Jan. 25, saying it was responding to customer demand. "Working with our customers, who have made their views known on the issue of gestation stalls, we are pleased to be taking this precedent-setting step," said Smithfield Foods CEO, C. Larry Pope.
Pope pointed out that extensive research into sow housing has shown that both gestation stalls and group pens provide for the well-being of pregnant sows and work equally well from a production standpoint. Pope's view reflects the independent findings of the AVMA Task Force on the Housing of Pregnant Sows, which explored and described the advantages and disadvantages of various housing systems. (Its report is posted at www.avma.org/issues/animal_welfare/sow_housing_tfr.pdf [PDF], and the AVMA policy on Pregnant Sow Housing is posted at www.avma.org/issues/policy/animal_welfare/pregnant_sow_housing.asp.)
"There is no scientific consensus on which system is superior, and we do not endorse one management system over the other," Pope said.
Smithfield also based its decision on initial results of its own three-year study into sow housing. The company has been researching penning systems at some of its hog farms in North Carolina. The second year of the study has been completed, and preliminary results indicate that, with proper management, group housing arrangements are equally as good as gestation stalls in providing proper care for pregnant sows.
According to the National Pork Board, producers decide for themselves the type of production system that is best for their animals, and for them, given their resources and markets.
"Existing expert research, along with our own findings, has led us to conclude that switching from gestation stalls to group pens will not have a detrimental effect on our animals or the way we run our business," said Dennis Treacy, vice president of environmental and corporate affairs for Smithfield Foods.