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On Gestation Crates and Your Conscience

The animal welfare community is all abuzz over Smithfield Foods’ decision to phase out gestation crates for pregnant pigs. We banned them here in Florida, and Arizona recently followed, but this is the first time a slaughter company has volunteered to make the change (gee, their recent bad press had nothing to do with it? And here’s my commentary on that bad press).

This is from the Humane Society of the United States:

"This is an earthquake in the pig industry," Wayne Pacelle,
president and CEO of The HSUS, said. "Gestation crates are one of the
most inhumane confinement systems used in modern agribusiness, and this
decision is a signal by the industry leader that these crates have no
place in the future of American agriculture. The HSUS calls on the
other major pork producers to follow Smithfield’s lead, and rid the
industry of this extraordinarily inhumane confinement system."

Smithfield Foods owns roughly 1.2 million sows.

Crates Cause Physical Problems, Psychosis

Gestation crates are 2-foot by 7-foot metal cages that house
breeding pigs. The sows have a gestation period of four months, and are
in the crates for nearly their entire pregnancy. After giving birth,
they are re-impregnated and placed back in the crates, enduring perhaps
eight or 10 successive pregnancies in the crates before the animals are
reproductively "spent." The crates are so restrictive that the animals
can’t even turn around for months on end. Pigs confined in gestation
crates suffer both leg and joint problems along with psychosis resulting from extreme boredom and frustration.

Confinement in gestation crates is so abusive that the entire
European Union is phasing out the practice, with a total ban taking
effect in 2013.

Here’s the Gray Matter: Yes, the banning of gestation crates will eliminate one form of suffering. In fact, I was instrumental in that in Florida. I signed petitions and voted, and honestly thought I was helping animals. But I’ve since realized that the net effect is actually the opposite. (Gary Francione’s post on the topic is a must-read.) After the grandstanding of Smithfield, consumers will feel better about eating pigs, and bypass the question about whether they are ours to bring into the world to fatten, shoot up with antibiotics and maybe hormones, slaughter and eat. When Smithfield says its going to stop doing that, I’ll consider it a victory.

This is no "earthquake" for the industry–it’s a fabulous public relations coup for Smithfield. They win, and the pigs will, as always, lose.

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Vegan #

    It's hard to imagine how anyone could say that Smithfield ending its confinement of pigs in gestation crates could actually hurt animals. It's one thing not to work on those type of campaigns, but it's another to claim they're actually harming animals.

    See Vegan Outreach's great article on why vegans should be in favor of banning certain ag practices:


    January 29, 2007
  2. I think you are right about the public relations-nature of Smithfield's announcement, and it's even more immediate than the Rolling Stone article. (Anyone who read the Rolling Stone article can see the gestation crate move for what it is — PR. They're still killing 27 million pigs a year.)

    Turns out, the corporation is having major trouble with its workforce since they treat them so badly. The blog Facing South details the connection.

    The short version is workers tried to organize, the company (which clearly thrives on exploiting undocumented workers) then uses that against the workers in an effort to intimidate them. On Wednesday, January 24, Immigration and Customs Enforcement Officers(ICE) arrested 21 Smithfield workers from the Tar Heel plant. Then the very next day Smithfield makes the gestation crate announcement to deflect attention from the fact that they got caught exploiting undocumented workers.

    January 29, 2007

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