It would appear that corporate America is catching up to public opinion. Since December, a string of fast-food chains, pork producers and other major companies have committed to raising sows without gestation crates or buying meat from suppliers that have dumped the confinement system. It started late last year when Smithfield Foods, the nation’s largest pork producer, announced that 30 percent of its own sows would be moved from gestation crates to group housing by the end of 2011, a sign the company was at last fulfilling a pledge it had made in 2007.
In January, Hormel Foods decided to jump on board, announcing it would convert all of its company-owned farms to group sow housing before 2018. A month later, McDonald’s promised to work with its suppliers to eliminate gestation crates, and two of the fast-food giant’s competitors, Burger King and Wendy’s, soon followed suit. Others have joined the movement this year as well: Denny’s, Safeway and two food-service companies, the Compass Group and Bon Appetit Management.
Participants inside (and outside) the pork and restaurant industries say this seemingly sudden movement against gestation crates actually has been in the works for years, the result of a number of factors. Prime among them, as Grandin indicates, is public opinion. To date, eight states have passed laws prohibiting the crates, including Florida, Arizona, Colorado and Michigan. Some of those laws were approved in public referendums, like California’s, which garnered more than 60 percent of the vote.
“Imagine if a political candidate won with two-thirds of the vote,” says Paul Shapiro, vice president of farm animal protection for the Humane Society of the United States, a major agitator in trying to eliminate gestation crates in the pork industry. “It’s a political slaughter.”
If the public appears dead-set against gestation crates, the scientific and veterinary communities have more mixed feelings.
A 1997 report of the Scientific Veterinary Committee of the European Union — where a gestation crate ban will go into effect next year — noted that because “overall welfare appears to be better when sows are not confined throughout gestation, sows should be preferably be kept in groups.” Likewise in 2008, the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, after 21
2 years of research, recommended “the phase-out, within 10 years, of all intensive confinement systems that restrict natural movement and normal behaviors, including swine gestation crates.”