by Frances Flower, Whole Foods Market Blog
Posted: Wednesday, March 28, 2012 at 3:20PM EDT
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.
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