Smithfield makes more progress on gestation-crate-free pledge

By on January 8, 2018 with 10 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

Today, the world’s largest pig producer, Smithfield Foods, announced more progress in its movement away from confining mother pigs in tiny gestation crates, further acknowledging that animals built to move ought to be allowed to move.

As a matter of historical import, our quest to rid the industry of these inhumane contraptions got an enormous lift in 2007 when Smithfield Foods originally made its anti-gestation-crate pledge. The crates or cages are barely larger than the sows’ bodies and prevent them even from turning around. With the company having invested significant capital in these confinement systems, it would be no small feat to fulfill the promise. Since the 1960s, all the other big producers in the pork industry have relied on the same production techniques, and Smithfield was the first big player to make a commitment to stop the use of these crates.

The commitment came just months after The HSUS prevailed in a hotly contested ballot measure in Arizona to ban gestation crates and helped set the stage for legislative and corporate policy advances in subsequent years. Five years after the Smithfield commitment, we worked with many of the biggest names in American food retail to pledge to eliminate their procurement of pork from factory farms that use gestation crates in their supply chain. McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Safeway, and Kroger—all companies that pay real heed to price points – made those commitments. Dozens of other companies followed in their wake, with many of them committing to the 100 percent gestation-crate-free mark by 2022.

Smithfield’s competitors in the production sphere — including two of the biggest names, Tyson Foods and Seaboard — have not announced any concrete plans to even reduce their use of gestation crates, whereas Smithfield’s substantial reduction is measurable.

Today’s announcement notes that all of Smithfield’s company-owned farms now house pregnant sows in groups, rather than letting them linger for essentially their entire lives in gestation crates. There is still a long way to go for its contractors, but there’s been some movement there, too.

While we laud the company’s progress, we also don’t want to overstate it. As an image pulled from a December 2016 Smithfield Foods corporate presentation illustrates, the company still uses gestation crates at its facilities. Here’s how it works: Smithfield inseminates each breeding pig and confines her in a gestation crate for the first five to six weeks of her gestation period. During that time, she’s unable to turn around or engage in other important behaviors. Then, she’s moved into a more open “group housing” system, where she lives for about 10 weeks. After another month in a different crate (called a “farrowing” crate), she’s re-impregnated and the process starts again for her. So if a breeding pig goes through seven of these cycles of gestation, birth, and farrowing over the course of her lifetime, it would mean that all told, even under Smithfield’s new system, each sow will experience a total of 42 weeks confined in gestation crates (meaning that she would be out of the crates for roughly 70 weeks).

This is far from perfect, but it represents a dramatic reduction in Smithfield’s use of gestation crates. Again, it’s progress we applaud. It’s our intention to hold its officials to the original company pledge. That’s especially important considering that major companies like McDonald’s have made it clear their own commitments are to “end” or “eliminate” gestation crates (not reduce their usage) from their supply chains.

It’s time for Smithfield’s competitors to stop lagging, too, especially as so many major customers in food retail have pledged no-gestation-crate policies. What’s more, California voters are considering an HSUS-backed ballot measure this year to ban the sale of pork in all of California if it comes from factory farms using gestation crates – locking off a market of 38 million consumers to companies that keep relying on crates.

We look forward to working with Smithfield in the months and years to come as it goes down a path the company rightfully calls “continuous improvement.” Smithfield has made major strides –strides that we’ve publicly supported all along its journey. As we enter a new year, I’m pleased to report this progress, and look forward to more. It’s time now for the entire nation – all producers, all food retailers, and all consumers – to get fully on board too.

Farm Animals, Humane Economy

Subscribe to the Blog

Enter your email address below to receive updates each time we publish new content.


Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Loretta Benson says:

    Use is no excuse for abuse. Animals need to live their natural lives NATURALLY.
    Period the end. Greed , callous hearts, lack of understanding and knowledge. Rule, sadly.
    Best way to stop. Stop buying product AND let them know.

  2. Loretta Benson says:

    Dear Humane Society.
    Enlighten our President. He has no idea. Never to late to learn.

  3. Susannah Sulzman says:

    This is definitely progress! However, it remains to be seen how Smithfield will actually implement and oversee these changes. This is NOT a company known for humane considerations. They consider living animals to be “products” and act accordingly.

  4. Susan Rapp says:

    What about 2018????? What is so special about 2022??? Even the group pens are ridiculously small. Pigs are mobile animals. Give them their space!!!

  5. dee maharg says:

    i dont eat pork of any kind since i know about this subject of how the pig is kept in crates. i knew it was bad but not this terrible and is with most of farm animals. the facts are horrific !!!!!

  6. Jen says:

    This is horrifying! If this is progress I would hate to see what it looked like before!!

    Please No crates at all!
    That would be progress!

    I do not eat pork at all.
    Can t understand why these adorable animals are still being abused.

    Please go pork free!!

  7. Suzan Lee Jackson says:

    The truth is: a person doesn’t really need to eat meat. There are protein powders which contain all the essential amino acids.
    My grocery bill is way down and I feel healthier for the change in my diet.

  8. Giuliana Rinaldo says:

    This is still grossly unexceptable. Smithfield is selfish and only cares about money with no integrity or compassionate humanity.
    These pigs lives are raped of every thing good in life, including hope. Imagine living on cold, hard conctrete or wood in space you can barely move in with nothing to do 24/7 & nobody to spend time with not even the babies that were taken away from you – how morbidly cruel and inhumane! And they don’t get to ever exprience nature, grass, hay or the simple pleasures of fresh air, sunshine, etc.
    These Smithfield people should all place themselves in all these different crates & see how they feel. However, it still wouldn’t be the same, knowing they’re just trying it out and can leave anytime.
    Instead, ne humane by making permanent group housing for all pigs, where they have the freedom to be outdoors during the day & in group housing with hay & bigger acceptable space at night.
    I am vegan & don’t eat, wear, or use any animal products for one of these many reasons. This is not s sacrifice for me at all. I do this by choice in support of all animals and have educated myself in every aspect of the matte – there is good vegan food, all kinds of products, & clothing.

    As long as animals are treated without respect, dignity, and compassion, we will continue to also have inhumane problems in the world between people as well – You reap what you sow.

  9. Toni Ruszala says:

    I think the trucks that transport the pigs need to get on board. I don’t live too far from Smithfield. Each time I go there, I get physically ill seeing these poor pigs all jammed up in the truck with their little noses pressed against the truck. Makes me sick.

  10. Anne says:

    Why are the pigs kept in crates when pregnant?

Share a Comment

The HSUS encourages open discussion, and we invite you to share your opinion on our issues. By participating on this page, you are agreeing to our commenting policy.
Please enter your name and email address below before commenting. Your email address will not be published.