Calls to eliminate stalls labeled 'business decisions'
The recent rush by some restaurant chains to call for the elimination of gestation stalls in pork production isn’t really an animal welfare issue, according to pork industry experts.
Published: May 15, 2012
The trend appears to be driven as much, or more, by what is perceived to be consumer demand as well as pressure from animal welfare groups.
McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Burger King the past two months unveiled new policies that will require its pork suppliers to outline plans to phase out gestation stalls. No timetable was set for the changes in pork production, although Burger King pledged 100 percent of its eggs will be sourced from cage-free operations by 2017.
Safeway grocery last week also announced it will give preference to suppliers who phase out gestation stalls.
“Those decisions are coming from executive boards,” said Dereke Dunkirk, president of the Illinois Pork Producers Association. “I feel like some of the push is coming from what is perceived to be consumer wants, or by calls for action by people not associated with farms.”
Janeen Salak-Johnson, animal scientist at the University of Illinois, said the recent calls to eliminate gestation stalls are “business decisions” backed by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).
She is concerned the trend of phasing out certain production methods could limit farmers’ options to care for their pigs and it could produce unintended consequences such as more sow injuries or lame animals.
Dunkirk noted that animal husbandry practices, not housing systems, determine the level of animal welfare on each farm.
“It’s not about what system (the animals) are living in. Therefore, each producer needs to decide what system works best on his (or her) farm.”
The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) believes much of the recent push to eliminate gestation stalls has been driven by HSUS. HSUS owns stock in 52 companies so it can attend shareholder meetings and submit proposals for animal welfare policy, the Associated Press reported.
“It seems that Burger King was bullied by an animal rights group whose ultimate goal is the elimination of food animal production,” NPPC said.
But Jonathan Fitzpatrick, chief brand and operations officer for Burger King, said the company is dedicated to animal welfare.
“We continue to leverage our purchasing power to ensure the appropriate and proper treatment of animals by our vendors and suppliers,” Fitzpatrick said.
Not all restaurants and food suppliers, however, are dictating production methods to suppliers.
Domino’s this month rejected an HSUS resolution that proposed Domino’s require its pork suppliers to end the use of gestation stalls. Sysco, a food service provider, also offers pork suppliers a choice of production systems.
Domino’s supports the American Veterinary Medical Association and American Association of Swine Veterinarians position that gestation stalls are as appropriate as group housing systems for providing the well-being of sows during pregnancy.
“We rely on animal experts to determine what is the best way to raise an animal that’s being used for food,” Tim McIntyre, Domino’s spokesman, told the National Hog Farmer.
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