Last week, two Chicago newspapers ran editorials on McDonald's decision to require its pork suppliers to phase out gestation stalls. (You can find the original Chicago Tribune editorial here, and the Sun Times editorial here.) We know this is an important issue in our industry and we're eager to be a part of the conversation. Janeen Salak-Johnson, an expert on animal well-being and housing, and I were among those who responded.
If you have questions, leave a comment. I'm happy to answer them,
Response to Tribune Editorial by Mike Haag
As a father and consumer, I agree with Steve Chapman that no one has a right to abuse animals (Food and conscience, February 16, 2012) but disagree with his claims about today's farms.
As a third generation farmer, I am committed to providing excellent care to our sows and piglets every day because it's the right thing to do. Asserting that modern farm practices, such as gestation stalls, do not consider the well-being of our sows is misguided and ignores what veterinarians and researchers tell us about good animal care. Modern housing gives farmers the tools to provide individual care to each pregnant sow and protect her during pregnancy.
We know more about animal health, nutrition and comfort than we did just a few decades ago and farmers continue to seek ways to maximize animal well-being because we know that healthy animals are the first step to ensuring safe food for all of us.
Some groups want to limit consumer choice by making demands that do little to improve animal welfare. And while McDonald's has set new standards for its suppliers, I know that consumers expect us to do what's right, regardless of the system we use. That's why I will continue to provide the sows and piglets on my farm with safe, clean, comfortable housing and exceptional care.
Response to Sun-Times Editorial by Dr. Janeen Salak-Johnson
Animal Care Needs to Lead Sow Housing Decisions
As a mom, an animal lover and someone whose career has been focused on the well-being of animals, I understand and share the passion that people have related to making sure that farm animals are raised humanely. However, I am deeply disturbed by your recent editorial calling for the ban of gestation crates. It's absurd and irresponsible to claim that this veterinarian approved housing is torture to sows.
I am not a pork producer, I did not grow up on a farm and I have no financial interest in any particular sow housing system. I am a scientist and educator whose career is dedicated to improving the well-being of animals, while in the care of the farmers who raise them for food. I have a passion for educating students, developing future scientists and sustaining animal agriculture so that we can provide the best care for animals, while providing safe, affordable and quality food for the world.
The number one goal of those raising animals for food is to provide proper care for those animals. More specifically, I have devoted the past eight years of my research program to improving housing systems for pregnant pigs (sows). There are numerous ways to provide proper care for sows including gestation stalls. There are advantages and disadvantages to every housing system including gestation stalls, open pens, free access stalls or pasture. When it comes to providing care for the pregnant sow, one-size does not fit all.
Simply putting a sow in a group pen or out on pasture does not equate to improved well-being because more space DOES NOT equate to improved well-being, it's the quality of space not the quantity of space.
Let's be clear: McDonalds' decision to phase out the use of gestation stalls was a marketing decision based on consumer perceptions, not on the improved welfare of the animals. I know one cannot trump emotions with science, but it is my ethical obligation to do what is right.
I strongly believe that we should continue to look for ways to improve sow housing systems that, above everything else, improve sow well-being. Simply banning the use of gestation stalls does not translate to improved well-being of the sow. Stalls help farmers provide individual care to each sow, minimize stress and increase sow and worker safety.
My main concern on this issue is for the animal. Simply equating a human perception about a sow housing system with a decision to eliminate it does not guarantee an improvement in the well-being of that animal. If we want to feel better as a society for a victory for animal welfare, then let's make sure that it actually does improve it.
Janeen L Salak-Johnson, PhD
Associate Professor, Stress/Environmental Physiology & Well-being
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign