Maternity Pens: Lipstick on a Tortured Pig

Who asked the sow if she wanted to turn around?Imagine spending your life crammed into a space about as big as an airline seat. Imagine not being able to turn around, to roll over, or to stretch your limbs comfortably. Imagine being so frustrated and stressed by being forced to live like this that you bite the bars of your cage (because that’s the only thing you can get to) until your mouth bleeds. Imagine the suffering… For millions of pigs in gestation crates, this is not make-believe. It’s how they are forced to spend most of their lives, day in, and day out, for months at a time. As you may already know, gestation crates are intensive confinement systems used in hog farming. They’re used to restrain a pregnant sow until she gives birth. Gestation crates typically measure 2 x 6.6 feet, barely larger than the sow. Since the purpose of a factory farm sow is to produce litter after litter, as often as possible, this is where she will spend most of her life — until the final few months when she is fattened for the walk to the slaughterhouse floor. Agricultural industry groups attempt to defend the cruelty of gestation crates by claiming that they are superior to group housing. But the research does not support their point of view. In fact, agricultural expert Temple Grandin unambiguously rejects gestation crates:
We’ve got to treat animals right, and gestation stalls have got to go… Confining an animal for most of its life in a box in which it is not able to turn around does not provide a decent life.
In industrial agriculture, profit is paramount. Factory farmers prefer gestation crates because they are cheaper and easier to work with than alternative methods, such as group housing. The well-being of the sow is only a concern insofar as keeping the animal alive, and the psychological and physical trauma is irrelevant, as long as the meat is marketable. Yet consumer sentiment is firmly against gestation crates. Two thirds of California voters chose to ban intensive confinement systems. And voters have gotten their representatives to ban gestation crates in Florida, Arizona, Colorado, Maine, Michigan, Rhode Island, Oregon, and Ohio. And, more and more, retailers and wholesalers are listening. Hundreds of food product producers and food buyers are eliminating gestation crates from their supply chains, including ConAgra, Aramark, Costco, Sysco, Sodexo, Safeway, Kroger, Target, Applebee’s, IHOP, General Mills, Kraft Foods, Campbell Soup Co., Hillshire Farms, Jack in the Box, McDonald’s, Denny’s, and many more. In April of 2013, every leading Canadian retailer signed onto an agreement to eliminate gestation crates. Even companies that once paid Richard Berman to shill for them are paying attention. Former Berman financer, Wendy’s, is abandoning gestation crates and moving to more humane production methods. But Big Ag is not listening. Big Ag, stubbornly resistant to the winds of change, wants to cling to outmoded, inhumane methods of production in the face of impending reforms. They refuse to even try to change. Instead, they plan to change the way we think about the suffering of sows in gestation crates. How? By reframing the issue. By putting lipstick on a tortured pig. Richard Berman has been spending a great deal of time with pork producers, urging them to rally the troops and defend against animal welfare. The first phase of Berman’s strategy is a campaign to whitewash the cruelty of gestation crates, starting with the name. He suggests “maternity pens,” a warm and fuzzy name for a decidedly cold, harsh practice. The goal is to frame gestation crates as loving, nurturing environments, and to downplay the reality of pressure sores and bloody concrete. It is, in a word, hogwash. You can stop him. When you see the misleading term “maternity pens”, make sure everyone reading understands who is behind the propaganda, and what it defends: the cruel, lifelong confinement of sensitive and intelligent animals in a claustrophobic cage. Berman’s campaigns rely on ignorance to spread. Counter them with the facts. For more on gestation crates:

Protecting piglets

I am befuddled! In the past few months, I have engaged in numerous interactions with people purported to be involved in the animal agriculture industry regarding efforts by animal protection groups to eliminate the extreme confinement of pigs on farms. Most of these “farmers” claim that the elimination of gestation crates would be catastrophic to the little piglets. You see, sometimes sows aren’t the greatest or most attentive of mothers and their piglets need to be protected from them – as sows may accidentally roll over on their piglets or even possibly intentionally injure or kill them. Well, I thought, that seems logical — so naturally we wouldn’t want to eliminate gestation crates. And then I did a little research. This topic came to my attention recently as Ohioans for Humane Farms was collecting signatures to get a measure on the ballot to, among other things, eliminate gestation crates for sows. When I did my research, I found out that millions of sows are housed in gestation crates during their four-month pregnancies. The average sow has 2 to 2.5 litters per year and as a result, assuming she is free from the crate when she is not pregnant, which is doubtful, she ultimately spends about 70 – 85% of her life in a crate so small that she is unable to turn around, extend her limbs, or lie down comfortably. I also found out, simply by reading the language of the ballot measure, that an exception was made for the use of farrowing crates. Farrowing crates are housing units into which sows are moved shortly before the birth of their piglets. Farrowing crates allow the mother to lie down so that her piglets can nurse, but the piglets are actually housed in a separate adjoining crate so as to protect them from being injured by the sow. Several studies have shown that farrowing crates typically do not improve mortality rates over outdoor systems, but that point is not relevant to this discussion as the animal welfare measure in Ohio specifically allows for the use of farrowing crates. In fact, of the seven states that have already passed measures to eliminate gestation crates, not one has eliminated the use of farrowing crates. Which leads me to my point of befuddlement. How is it that I, as a city girl, with no professional or practical experience in farming, understand the difference between gestation and farrowing crates and the average farmer doesn’t appear to? Perhaps it’s not that they don’t understand the difference — could it be that they assume that I, as a city girl, with no professional or practical experience in farming, wouldn’t care enough to learn about the issue? By falsely promoting gestation crates as the great protector of piglets, does the industry think the tide of public opinion on extreme confinement will turn? Most people are against the extreme confinement of animals in agriculture, and the industry knows that. So I suppose they choose to simply misinform people and hope they don’t do their homework. Yes, that is a cynical view of the animal agriculture industry, but frankly I’d be less shocked by that than the possibility that farmers really do not know the difference between these types of housing systems.