Smithfield Foods, Inc., the world’s largest pig supplier, announced yesterday that it will phase out gestation crates for pregnant sows by 2017. Let’s hope it keeps its word this time. Smithfield has promised this before.
Female pigs at Smithfield are forced into continuous cycles of pregnancy and birth, only to have their piglets ripped away from them within weeks. The pregnant pigs are confined to metal-barred gestation crates so small that they are nearly immobilized.
In 2007, Smithfield agreed to phase out the crates in 10 years. The decision followed pressure from animal advocates, including PETA’s public protests, meetings with Smithfield executives, and a shareholder resolution to ban the crates. But after two years, the company dropped the plan, citing economic woes.
Last month, PETA launched a “hashtag hijack,” flooding a Smithfield Twitter event with tweets from supporters demanding the end of gestation crates. Smithfield has now agreed but has given itself another five years to comply and said the ban would apply only to farms owned by the company, not its many contract farms.
A company that earned record profits last year off the misery of pigs could start today to end one of its worst abuses. And it should require its contract farmers to do the same. Hopefully, Smithfield won’t renege again and will listen to our calls to ban all gestation crates. Animal advocates can continue to cut into the company’s profit margins by refusing to eat Smithfield products—or any pigs.