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2012: The Year of the Pig?

Pigs * Gestation Crates
Pigs * Gestation Crates
August 13, 2012

RICHMOND, Va. - The year 2012 might end up being the year of the pig.

Several leading fast-food chains including McDonald's, Wendy's and Burger King have committed to eliminating pig-gestation crates from their pork supplies. One of the biggest pork producers, Virginia's Smithfield Foods, announced that it will phase out all pig-gestation crates by 2017.

That's great news for pigs, says Paul Shapiro, vice president of farm-animal protection at the Humane Society of the United States. However, he says his group is still lobbying Tyson Foods, gathering more than 250,000 signatures asking the leading pork supplier to phase out gestation crates.

"These are these small metal cages that are so cramped the pigs are unable even to turn around for virtually their entire lives. The cages are barely larger than the volume of the pig's own body."

Female pigs are lined up by the thousands and confined during their pregnancy, removed to give birth, impregnated again and end up back in the crates, Shapiro says. Nine states have banned the practice.

Shapiro says some pork producers defend the practice, because cramming the pigs in cages saves space, and fewer people are needed to care for them, which saves the companies money.

"Regardless of where you come down on these broader issues about how we ought to treat farm animals, we should all be able to agree that locking an intelligent, social animal up in a cage so small that she can barely move an inch her entire life is just cruel. It's inhumane, and it ought to be banned."

Because pigs are smart and social animals, he says, they exhibit extreme frustration by chewing on the metal bars and other behaviors that are evidence of the suffering.

Costco, the nation's second-largest food retailer, has called on its suppliers to end the practice within 10 years.

Monique Coppola, Public News Service - VA