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: