SMITHFILED, Virginia, January 8 – Smithfield Foods, Inc. and its hog production subsidiary, Murphy-Brown LLC, announced Tuesday that it is recommending all of its contract sow growers join with the company in converting their facilities to group housing systems for pregnant sows. The company said that it is asking contract sow growers to convert by 2022 with a sliding scale of incentives to accelerate that timetable.
“The writing on the wall has never been clearer,” says Vice President of Farm Animal Protection with the Humane Society of the United States Paul Shapiro, “that gestation crate confinement really does not have a future in the pork industry.”
In 2007, Smithfield began converting its company-owned farms in the U.S. to group housing, an effort that is 54% complete and slated to wrap up in 2017. The reason is clear. In a press release, Smithfield Executive Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer Dennis H. Treacy said: “To date, more than 50 companies—many of them Smithfield customers—have announced that they will source pork in the future from suppliers utilizing group housing.”
Shapiro says targeting contract growers, in addition to the company-wide phaseout, shows a different kind of commitment.
“Much of the pork industry is contractors, rather than company-owned facilities,” says Shapiro. “so when you look at the landscape here, you see many of the biggest pork sellers – the fast-food companies, the grocers – are committing to get gestation crates out of their supply chains within certain time frames. And that doesn’t mean just from company-owned facilities, that mean for all of the pork they buy. So Smithfield’s announcement is an important one in order to meet the demand of the McDonald’s, Safeways, and Costcos of the world, who are demanded that all of their pork be coming from gestation-crate free facilities in the near future.”
Treacy emphasized that although the conversion of contract sow growers’ facilities to group housing systems is being encouraged, it is not mandatory. If growers choose not to participate, their current contracts with Murphy-Brown will remain unchanged, although extensions are less likely.
In the Smithfield press release, President and CEO of Smithfield Foods C. Larry Pope said the company understands fully what it’s asking of its contract sow growers.
“We recognize that these projects require a significant investment on the part of our growers,” Pope said. “But a well-planned renovation to a group housing system will help maintain the farms’ value for years to come, while at the same time supporting our company-wide commitment to animal care.”