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Smithfield: On track for crate-free sows by ’17

By Katie Doherty

This article was originally published January 3, 2013 at 8:17 a.m. Updated January 3, 2013 at 10:30 a.m.

Smithfield Foods Inc. said Thursday that it has moved 38 percent of the pregnant sows on its company-owned farms in the U.S. to group housing systems.

Previously, the world’s largest pork processor and hog producer’s sows were housed in individual gestation crates, which constrain the movement of the pigs, preventing them from turning around.

The latest update, which reflects progress through the end of 2012, means the company is on track to finish its switch to group housing on all company farms in the country by 2017, the Smithfield, Va.-based company said in a statement.

Springdale-based Tyson Foods Inc., the second-largest pork processor and the largest meat processor in the U.S., has faced pressure to phase out gestation crates for sows. In October, the chief executive of the Humane Society of the U.S., Wayne Pacelle, filed to join Tyson’s board in order to promote the changeover.

Also in October, Tyson announced its FarmCheck program to audit its suppliers’ operations to ensure that animals destined for its processing plants are raised in humane environments.

Austin, Minn.-based Hormel Foods Corp., like Smithfield, has also committed to ending the use of gestation crates by 2017. And Atlantic Premium Brands Ltd. of Northbrook, Ill., pledged in September to eliminate use of the crates.

Smithfield added Thursday that its international hog-production operations will finish their conversions to group housing by 2022, adding that its operations in Poland and Romania have completed theirs, while its Granjas Carroll de Mexico and Norson join ventures in Mexico are on track for the 2022 target.

“The Humane Society of the United States welcomes Smithfield's announcement that it is phasing out its use of gestation crates,” Pacelle said in a statement. “Nearly half of sows on Smithfield’s company-owned facilities worldwide — and nearly 40 percent in the United States — are now housed in groups instead of crates, and that shows that this transition away from crate confinement is economically viable."

The Humane Society added that Tyson Foods and Seaboard Farms "are lagging in taking similar actions, and they are increasingly out of step with their consumers’ wishes."

Smithfield decided in 2007 to convert to group housing for pregnant sows because of customer input, the company said.

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