I often say in our movement, at this stage of its development, it’s three steps forward and one step back – which is unmistakable progress. Yesterday we took one step back with North Carolina Republican lawmakers overriding the veto of the Republican governor on an overreaching ag-gag measure. Yet, the factory farming lobby won’t be able to celebrate much – because just more than a week after Walmart’s announcement that it will embrace the Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare for its procurement of animal products, we have secured a major international gain for farm animals. JBS, the world’s largest meat processing company and owner of SEARA, Brazil’s second largest pork producer, has announced it will phase out the use of sow gestation crates at all of its facilities by 2016. The move will impact countless animals, who otherwise would have spent their entire lives confined in these inhumane crates, for years to come.
This is the latest in a series of victories against gestation crates in Brazil, one of the world’s largest pork producers and exporters, and a country with a land area that rivals that of the United States. Just six months ago, BRF, Brazil’s largest pork producer, agreed to phase out gestation crates, and the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food Supply signed formal agreements with the Brazilian Association of Pig Farmers to encourage the country’s pork producers to end the use of the crates. Last year, Arcos Dorados, the largest McDonald’s franchisee in Latin America and the Caribbean, announced that all of its pork suppliers must present documented plans to limit the use of gestation crates and adopt group housing systems, including in Brazil.
JBS says the transition from gestation crates to more humane group housing systems will be completed by 2016—a faster timeframe than most U.S. pork producers that have made similar commitments. The company also stated that all of its new units will adopt group housing systems for breeding sows and their contract suppliers will also receive support in transitioning to such systems.
Gestation crates are barely larger than the sows’ bodies and prevent the animals from turning around or taking more than a step forward or backward. Sows confined in these crates experience boredom, frustration, and psychological trauma. They can also suffer from numerous health problems due to the confinement, such as urinary infections and lameness.
In the past year, several countries and global companies have announced a move away from the crates, and The HSUS and Humane Society International have been major catalysts in many of these events. The European Union’s ban on the continuous use of gestation crates came into effect in 2013. Australia’s phase-out ends in 2017, New Zealand’s ends next year, and Canada’s in 2024. The South African pork industry is considering a phase-out of crates by 2020.
In August, Nestlé, the world’s largest food company, committed to a phase-out of crates throughout its global supply chain, including in Brazil. More than 60 multinational food companies – including McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway, Sodexo, and Compass Group – have pledged to eliminate gestation crates from their supply chains. As mentioned above, the most far-reaching of all of these corporate food retail announcements came just 10 days ago with Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, signaling to suppliers that sow gestation crates are among several animal confinement practices that must end. Nine U.S. states have banned, or are phasing out the use of these crates, and top U.S.-based producers, including Smithfield and Cargill, have committed to getting out of the gestation crate business entirely.
This week’s announcement is yet another clear signal that concern for animals is universal and our campaign against intensive confinement is global. Step by step, company by company, country by country, we are getting closer to the end of the era of extreme confinement of animals on factory farms.