As part of its efforts encouraging Hormel Foods Corporation (NYSE: HRL) to improve the welfare of animals in its operations, The Humane Society of the United States has purchased stock in the company. The HSUS intends to use its stockholder position to move the $6 billion Austin, Minn.-based pork giant away from confining breeding pigs in gestation crates, which are cages barely larger than the animals’ bodies. The crates prevent breeding pigs from even turning around for virtually their entire lives.
Seven U.S. states and the European Union have passed laws to outlaw gestation crates, and major companies like Burger King, Wendy’s, Sonic, Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, Quiznos and Safeway have taken steps to increase purchases of gestation crate-free pork products. Other companies—like Whole Foods, Wolfgang Puck and Chipotle—don’t use any pork produced using gestation crates.
A comprehensive economic analysis of sow housing conducted at Iowa State University concluded that switching from gestation crates to “group housing”—which allows animals to move freely—can cut costs by up to 11 percent.
“Legislation, science, economics and public opinion all support replacing gestation crates with systems that at least allow animals to move,” stated Matthew Prescott, outreach director of The HSUS’ factory farming campaign. “By switching to gestation crate-free pork, Hormel would greatly reduce animal suffering and improve its bottom line, making the conversion a good step for animals and shareholders alike.”
Hormel’s own animal welfare advisor, Dr. Temple Grandin, unequivocally states that “gestation crates for pigs are a real problem…Basically, you’re asking a sow to live in an airline seat…I think it’s something that needs to be phased out.”
- About 70 percent of breeding sows in the United States are confined in gestation crates. Extensive scientific research confirms this causes immense suffering. Studies have shown that not confining animals in cages or crates may also improve food safety.
- An American Farm Bureau-funded poll found that the vast majority of consumers think gestation crates are inhumane.
- Factory farming continues to be a major social issue: Oprah Winfrey dedicated an entire show to the issue, The New York Times has written on the topic, and The American Conservative ran a cover article about the abuse inherent in confining animals so tightly they can barely move called “Torture on the Farm.”
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