When it comes to the issue of gestation-sow stalls – National Pork Producers Council President R.C. Hunt says there’s no evidence that a majority of the populace actually supports their prohibition. He says groups like the Humane Society of the United States are trying to convince people that individual sow housing is inhumane and that the sows in gestation stalls suffer – when the truth is – they don’t. He notes a number of food companies have been coerced into proclaiming they want their pork suppliers to be gestation-stall free. But Hunt says the available supply of pork from housing systems other than stalls doesn’t match the company pronouncements. University of Missouri Ag Economist Ron Plain recently found that only 17.3-percent of the 5.74-million sows in the U.S. were housed in open pens. The majority of those also spent some time in a gestation stall.
Taking it further – Plain said that a segregation and verification system would be needed to track pigs from sow to packer and to track pork from packer to retailer if consumers are to be assured of the production history behind their pork purchases. Hunt wonders if consumers are willing to pay more for their pork chops and bacon so they can know the type of system the sows that birthed the pigs that made the pork were housed in. If producers are forced to convert their barns from stalls to pens – Hunt says prices would rise. The estimated cost to America’s 67-thousand pork producers for converting from stalls to pens – according to Brian Buhr at the University of Minnesota – is between 1.9-billion and 3.2-billion dollars. He adds prices would be further impacted by the loss of production. He points out the United Kingdom abandoned stalls in 1999. Since then – pork production there has dropped by 50-percent and consumers now pay 10 to 20-percent more for pork. Hunt says the price of implementing a segregation and verification system for pork products hasn’t been determined.
But Hunt argues the costs are secondary for most producers – who make the well-being of their animals their top priority. He says gestation stalls are the best housing system for providing care to pregnant sows – adding that was decided after years of working with animals, observing their behaviors and determining what worked best to provide the greatest possible care. Janeen Salak-Johnson at the University of Illinois has found that stalls work and says HSUS isn’t telling the truth about pigs in stalls. At best – she says the jury – scientifically – is still out on the optimum housing system for gestating sows. Each type of housing system has inherent advantages and disadvantages. But Hunt says it’s not the type of housing that ultimately affects animal well-being most. He says it’s the care given to each animal. He says America’s pork producers are committed to producing safe, affordable and healthful foods for consumers by using industry practices that have been designed with input from veterinarians and other animal-care experts. Hunt says providing humane and compassionate care for their pigs at every stage of life is one of the ethical principles to which U.S. hog farmers adhere.