It looks like there’s a major case of foot-in-mouth disease in the pork industry. Neil Dierks, CEO of the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), distanced NPPC from the comments made last week by its communications director, who told the National Journal that it doesn’t matter that “….our animals can’t turn around for 2.5 years that they are in the stalls…I don’t know who asked the sow if she wanted to turn around…” The quote outraged many Americans and has garnered more than 42,000 shares on Facebook.
Many companies are moving away from gestation crates.
I’m glad that Dierks, who has always struck me as an approachable and reasonable person, would be embarrassed by the statement made by his press spokesperson.
That said, we are more concerned with deeds than the words. Gestation crates do immobilize sows for nearly their entire lives; that’s a fact. And we also know that there’s a less severe way to house the sows, and that many pig farmers have already made the transition or begun to shift to group housing systems. These systems, at the very least, allow sows to move around. That’s ultimately the problem with gestation crates, and the response offered by Mr. Dierks sidesteps the underlying problem.
With so many retailers and restaurants moving away from gestation crates, and with Smithfield and Hormel already making this commitment on the production side, it’s clear there’s no future for this cruel confinement device. It’s just a question how painful and protracted the transition will be.
It’s critical that industry leaders start to move the discussion in that direction, and away from a continued defense of gestation crates. Ignoring the demand for progress, as the NPPC is doing, will hurt pigs and farmers alike in the long run.