Today the Humane Society of the United States filed a lawsuit against Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer, for misleading consumers about animal abuse in its supply chain.
A little background: It is common practice in big animal agriculture to use “gestation crates.” These cages are barely larger than a pig’s body, and these cages are where female pigs are locked away while they are pregnant, which happens repeatedly throughout their lives, so they produce more and more pigs. We have documented these intelligent animals gnawing on the bars of their gestation crates until their mouths bleed—an act of desperate frustration. So, it’s no wonder that people are increasingly demanding the end of gestation crates. Companies like Smithfield want to give the people what they want—or, in Smithfield’s case, they want to appear to.
Our lawsuit alleges that Smithfield is unlawfully misleading the public about having eliminated gestation crates for mother pigs—cages barely larger than the animals’ own bodies that prevent them from even turning around.
Smithfield’s gestation crate promise goes back over a decade: In 2007, Smithfield promised to phase out gestation crates on all company-owned farms within a decade. Then, in 2009, Smithfield backtracked on that promise. In response, our HSUS investigators went undercover at a Smithfield-owned subsidiary’s sow farm in Virginia. What they captured was the brutal reality these highly intelligent, sensitive animals face when locked inside gestation crates. Soon after, Smithfield recommitted to eliminating gestation crates by 2017.
Fast forward to 2018, when Smithfield claimed to have achieved its promise to eliminate gestation crates on all company-owned farms by converting to a “group housing” system, where mother pigs are housed in groups instead of locked in individual cages.
But, in reality, Smithfield did not eliminate gestation crates, and only marginally improved these animals’ lives.
Smithfield’s so-called “group housing” system is actually a cycle that moves pigs from crates to groups and back to crates again for their whole lives. Thus, despite Smithfield’s deceptive claims, even for animals on company-owned farms, the gestation crate practice was merely reduced, not eliminated; sows still spend roughly half of their lives imprisoned in crates.
Innumerable consumers shop with animal welfare in mind, and many of Smithfield’s largest corporate customers have made their own commitments to eliminate gestation crates from their supply chains. Thus, it is unlawfully misleading, our lawsuit alleges, for Smithfield to claim it has met its commitment (which was to eliminate gestation crates) when, in fact, pigs still remain locked in crates on Smithfield’s factory farms for much of their lives.
Ending cruel farm animal confinement is a top priority for us. No company should be able to get away with seeking humane consumers’ dollars while engaging in cruel practices behind closed doors. We will hold these companies accountable to their promises.
Follow Kitty Block on Twitter @HSUSKittyBlock.