The U.S. pork industry builds its animal care and well-being programs on the foundation of what is best for the pig. U.S. pork producers have a moral obligation to provide the best human care for their animals. However, questions regarding one type of production system that utilizes gestation stalls (individual pens that sows are housed in while pregnant, to monitor feed intake and protect from aggressive sows) have led to calls for changes that may not provide benefits for the animal and may endanger the health of the sow and her unborn piglets, food safety and the environment.
The sow housing issue remains an important legislative topic across the country for both producers and consumers. Since 2001, when Florida voters amended their constitution to ban the use of gestation stalls, a number of legislative efforts and a variety of regulations have been offered in several states. This issue has been seized upon by animal rights activists, who are focusing their organizing power and mega-fundraising in states with “citizen-friendly” ballot initiative processes. Animal rights activists often push for gestation stall bans in states where there is little to no pork production.
- In 2012, Domino’s Pizza shareholders rejected (by a majority vote of 80 percent) a resolution from animal rights activists requiring its pork suppliers to stop the use of gestation stalls.
- In 2013, the New York legislature refused to approve a gestation stall ban.
- In 2013 and 2014, the Connecticut legislature stood up for the state’s family farmers and refused to vote for stall bans two years in a row.
- In 2013, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie vetoed legislation that would have banned the use of gestation stalls. In rejecting the legislation, Christie said: “The proper balancing of humane treatment of gestation pigs with the interests of farmers whose livelihood depends on their ability to properly manage their livestock best rests with the State’s farming experts – the State Board [of Agriculture] and the Department [of Agriculture].”
- In 2014, the Massachusetts legislature refused to pass a gestation stall ban.
NPPC supports the position of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) on sow housing. The AVMA maintains that no certain system is better than another for animal welfare, and all systems have advantages and disadvantages. The AVMA asserts that the pork industry “has moved toward gestation stall (crate) housing, because gestation stalls increase caregiver productivity, require lower capital investment, and are easier to manage than some indoor group housing systems.”
According to the AVMA, “sow housing systems should:
- Minimize aggression and competition among sows;
- Protect sows from detrimental effects associated with environmental extremes, particularly temperature extremes;
- Reduce exposure to hazards that result in injuries, pain, or disease;
- Provide every animal with daily access to appropriate food and water;
- Facilitate observation of individual sow appetite, respiratory rate, urination and defecation, and reproductive status by caregivers; and
- Allow sows to express most normal patterns of behavior.”
According to the AVMA, “current group systems allow freedom of movement and social interaction. However, these same systems, when they fail to work well, lead to problems, especially in the areas of aggression, injury, and uneven body condition. When they lack manipulable material, sows in group systems are also unable to forage. Current stall systems minimize aggression and injury, reduce competition, allow individual feeding, and assist in control of body condition. Stalls, however, also restrict movement, exercise, foraging behavior and social interaction. Because the advantages and disadvantages of housing systems are qualitatively different, there is no simple or objective way to rank systems for “overall” welfare.”
NPPC opposes efforts to prohibit production practices and remains committed to using its resources to fight any legislation or regulation that prevents pork producers from using the most beneficial means of housing sows. The pork industry has named sow housing as one of its highest research priorities and has put more than $500,000 toward sow housing research to learn how best to optimize types of housing systems while providing for the well-being of pigs. Educational resources are also available to producers through programs and printed materials such as PQA PlusTM and the Swine Care Handbook and through workshops such as the industry’s Sow Housing Forum held in May 2007.
The pork industry opposes legislation that would mandate on-farm food-animal production practices, including banning the use of individual sow housing, because scientific research has shown that there is no one, single best way to house a pregnant sow. To mandate any one type of sow housing system is not in the best interest of the pigs. The pork industry cannot accept non-science based directives about production practices that are advocated by animal rights activists that do not know pork production and have a vegetarian-based agenda masked as a concern for animal welfare.