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Shareholders to Tyson Foods: Outdated Practices with Pigs Won’t Fly

PHOTO: Tyson still using pig gestation crates - considered by many to be inhumane. A shareholder proposal encourages them to be phased out. Photo credit: Farm Sanctuary.
PHOTO: Tyson still using pig gestation crates - considered by many to be inhumane. A shareholder proposal encourages them to be phased out. Photo credit: Farm Sanctuary.
August 22, 2013

PHOENIX, Ariz. - In a proposal to Tyson Foods, shareholders are asking the company - one of the world's largest meat and poultry producers - to find a little empathy when it comes to the pigs it uses for pork production. Tyson has no plans to phase out the use of gestation crates, which keep female pigs cramped in cages that are so small, the animals cannot turn around.

Lucia von Reusner is a shareholder advocate with Green Century Capital Management. Her firm joined the United Methodist Church Benefit Board and the Humane Society of the United States in filing the proposal, she said.

"This proposal urges Tyson to assess and report to shareholders the risks associated with continuing to use the outdated and controversial practice of gestation crates to confine pigs in its pork supply chain," von Reusner said.

She warned that Tyson may be in danger of losing market share if the company does not respond to customer demands for higher animal-welfare standards. Many of Tyson's competitors, such as Hormel and Smithfield Foods, have announced their company-owned facilities will be gestation crate-free by 2017, and Cargill is already 50 percent free of the crates.

According to von Reusner, 95 percent of consumers oppose animal cruelty, and nearly 60 of the world's largest pork buyers - including McDonald's, Burger King, Costco and Oscar Mayer - have committed to eliminating the crates from their supply chains.

"A lot of these companies are Tyson customers," she noted, "so the fact that Tyson is refusing to give its customers what they want is a huge risk for investors. The market is shifting and Tyson is not moving."

Some in the industry have cited cost as the reason for the crates, stating that fewer employees are needed to manage pigs if they are confined. Von Reusner countered with information from a 2.5-year study by Iowa State University researchers, "Reproductive performance can be maintained or enhanced in well-managed group housing systems ... without increasing labor."

The complete text of the shareholder proposal is available at www.humanesociety.org. The study cited above is at http://www.cals.iastate.edu.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ