I’ve just finished a press conference I conducted in Washington, D.C. to announce the findings of our latest investigation into the treatment of animals on industrial farms. We held simultaneous events for the media in Norfolk, Va. and in central Virginia at the Richmond SPCA, with its president Robin Starr.
This was a press conference I had hoped we’d never have, for a variety of reasons. I hate to see this sort of animal suffering. But I also had hoped that Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pig producer, had turned a corner on animal welfare when it announced in 2007 that it would phase out gestation crates from its breeding facilities within 10 years. Admittedly, 2017 was—and is—a long way away, but it signaled the beginning of the end of this extreme confinement method and made plain that if a company as steeped in pig production as Smithfield could transition to other systems, so could every other player in the industry.
Since that time, the case against the crates has been cemented, and the trajectory of this issue made clear. Within the last three years, seven states and the European Union (all 27 nations) have enacted policies to phase out the crates, with some of the bans already having taken effect. Prominent animal scientists oppose the crates, and major retailers are urging their suppliers to stop using them. Yet, Smithfield, which initially was a leader in showing a new way and was applauded by The HSUS for its commitment, has retreated badly—announcing last year that it would not meet its own self-imposed, lenient deadline of 2017 and stating that it had indefinitely postponed the switchover to more humane housing systems.
But with the company having posted its most profitable quarter in its 74-year history, Smithfield will have a difficult time excusing its inaction on the basis of cost. There was good reason that Smithfield made that pledge in 2007, and an HSUS investigator who went undercover at a Smithfield subsidiary in Waverly, Va. has shown us exactly why it was the only moral thing for a major company to do in the first place.
You can read more about the investigation and watch the footage we played at today’s press conferences here. It is shocking to see these intelligent, curious animals immobilized in the crates, with bloodied heads and gaping wounds, and these hapless creatures forced to endure rough handling and no veterinarian in sight. It was several years ago when Dr. Temple Grandin, among the world’s foremost farm animal handling experts, properly observed that these crates need “to be phased out.” “Gestation crates for pigs are a real problem,” she said. “Basically, you're asking a sow to live in an airline seat.”
This investigation of the world’s largest pig producer comes soon after our recent investigations of other top producers in other sectors of industrial factory farm production. Just last month, The HSUS released exposés of Cal-Maine Foods, the country’s largest egg producer, and Willmar Poultry, the nation’s top turkey hatchery. In each case, The HSUS found unacceptable and systemic abuses, revealing that leaders within these industries do not meet even the most minimal animal welfare standards.
Getting rid of gestation crates is the most important reform the pork industry could implement at this time. And so we’re calling today on Smithfield simply to do what it publicly promised three years ago: to end its use of gestation crates by 2017—at the latest. That time frame may be too long into the future to help those suffering pigs our investigator captured on video, but it will prevent millions of others from enduring their same miserable fate. Asking that animals merely be able to turn around hardly seems like too much to ask, especially for a company that had $144 million in profits in the second quarter. But it’s the right thing to do.