Pig housing can be a conversation starter

Last month, pork industry giants Smithfield and Tyson announced plans to develop animal welfare improvements that include moving away from the practice of using gestation crates.

Smithfield’s announcement put in place incentives for contract pork growers to shift to “group housing systems” for pregnant sows before 2022. After that, the company will only renew contracts with growers who have switched to the new system. According to the announcement, the company has already transitioned 54% of sows on company-owned farms to the new system.

In a letter to its growers, Tyson said that it was asking all suppliers to improve quality and quantity of space for sows in any new or redesigned barns beginning this year. Whether it involves gestation stalls, pens or some other type of housing, Tyson believes future sow housing should allow sows of all sizes to stand, turn around, lie down and stretch their legs. The company plans to increase audits of sow farms to help ensure responsible on-farm treatment of animals and is urging installation of video monitoring to increase oversight.

Tyson gets about 95% of the pork it produces from 3,000 farmers, with the rest coming from farmers raising company-owned animals. For the sows it owns, many of the changes must begin or be in place by the end of this year. Other suppliers are being encouraged to follow the new recommendations.

Tyson alleges it is proposing the changes as competitors and customers distance themselves from suppliers using housing that restricts the movement of sows. According to a company spokesperson, the steps Tyson outlined reflect input from its animal well-being advisory panel, customers, farmers and industry experts. The steps demonstrate the company’s effort to balance consumer expectations with the realities of today’s hog farming business. The spokesperson added that more of Tyson’s customers and consumers want assurance their food is being produced responsibly.

Another major pork supplier, Cargill, claims to have gotten rid of 50% of its gestation crates.

According to research conducted by U. S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance (USFRA), poor treatment of farm animals is the second most popular concern of American consumers when it comes to methods conventional farmers use for food production. Food companies are listening to consumers’ concerns as almost 60 of the world’s largest pork buyers such as McDonald’s and Kroger have adopted policies with deadlines to eliminate pork produced using gestation crates from their supply chains.

The National Pork Board professes the position, supported by the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Association of Swine Veterinarians, that there are numerous ways to provide proper housing and care for sows. The Board asserts that each housing system, including individual and group housing, free-access stalls and pastures, has welfare advantages and disadvantages that must be considered by a farmer. It believes that regardless of the type of system used, what really matters is the individual care given to each pig. The board went on to say that pork producers need workable, credible and affordable solutions for improving animal care.

This is just one example of how the explosion of the talk about food is transforming the marketplace and shaping opinions about those involved in food production, from farm to fork. In addition to farming, farmers now have another role they should accept: communicating and connecting with, as well listening to, consumers. Friends and family are ranked the highest as a reliable source of information for food system issues. Are you prepared to be their go-to-person?

So pretend for a second you’re having a conversation with a friend or family member who does not have a farm background. They want to know how you feel about the use of gestation crates in pork production, as well as other food system issues such as GMOs, fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics and hormones. Are you prepared to have the kind of conversation that builds trust in food, farming and agriculture and responds to questions about food system issues that consumers are asking and farmers need to answer?

To help you prepare for these types of conversations, check out USFRA’s Food Source page at http://www.fooddialogues.com/foodsource.


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  1. farming in kenya and would loike to connect to other farmers in the world in regards to husbadly, research and market

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