The Cincinnati-based Kroger Co. announced that it has begun informing suppliers of a new policy statement regarding gestation crates that are used to house pregnant sows.
Kroger has science-based standards for animal welfare and works diligently to ensure that its suppliers treat animals humanely. Over the past few months, the Company has reviewed the opinions of animal welfare experts and other experts regarding the use of gestation crates for pregnant sows and has concluded that there are many ways to humanely house sows.
Kroger believes that a gestation crate-free environment is more humane and that the pork industry should work toward gestation crate-free housing for pregnant sows. The Company is encouraging its suppliers to accelerate this already-occurring transition in the Kroger supply-chain. Kroger also wants customers to know that this is a transition that may take many years.
“Kroger’s announcement comes on the heels of Safeway, the nation’s second-largest grocery chain, announcing in May that it’s eliminating gestation crates in its supply chain,” says Wayne Pacelle, chief executive officer of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). “I believe the industry is doing brand damage by defending these inhumane confinement crates, and standing in the way of other animal welfare reforms.”
The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) suggested other food companies consider the supply chain realities of the pork industry before making similar decisions.
“We’d be glad to discuss with food companies challenges caused by a transition in production systems,” said NPPC President R.C. Hunt. “But the bottom line is, regardless of any difficulties, the issue of sow housing is about providing the best care possible for our animals. Individual sow housing allows us an option to give that best care.”
Research has shown that there is no science-based animal welfare benefit to group sow housing over other forms of sow housing. The American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Association of Swine Veterinarians recognize gestation stalls and group housing as appropriate for providing for the well-being of sows during pregnancy. NPPC notes that the key factor that most affects animal well-being is husbandry skills — that is, the care given to each animal.
Because the overwhelming majority of the country’s nearly 6 million sows spend some time in a stall during the gestation cycle, according to an NPPC estimate, claims by food companies of sourcing a percentage of pork from gestation stall-free operations are misleading and cannot be validated. Most pork packers do not segregate product by sow housing type.