WOOSTER, Ohio — A fast food giant and a popular grocery chain are the latest companies to say they are working to purchase pork from farmers who phase out the use of swine gestation crates.
On May 31, McDonald’s USA announced its 10-year plan to work with its pork suppliers to phase out gestation stalls in its U.S. pork supply.
The fast food company’s goal, according to a media statement, is to source all pork for its U.S. business from producers who do not house pregnant sows in gestation stalls, by the end of 2022.
On Monday, June 4, Kroger Co. made a similar announcement that it has begun informing suppliers of a new policy statement regarding gestation crates that are used to house pregnant sows.
According to a media statement, “Kroger believes that a gestation crate-free environment is more humane and that the pork industry should work toward gestation crate-free housing for pregnant sows.”
A specific timetable was not given, and the company acknowledged “this is a transition that may take many years.”
Neither Kroger nor McDonald’s have returned phone messages seeking further comment.
Kroger bills itself as the nation’s largest traditional grocery retailer, with 2,435 supermarkets and multi-department stores in 31 states. Its headquarters is in Cincinnati.
Ohio’s Livestock Care Standards Board recently approved new standards for raising pork and other livestock, but those standards could be trumped by standards of retail food companies or new federal standards that may come into play.
According to Ohio’s new standard for raising swine, sows must be raised crate-free after 2025, unless for certain medical conditions or if used until the confirmation of pregnancy.
The McDonald’s crate-free mandate would be effective in 2022, three years before Ohio’s crate phaseout. It’s unclear whether McDonald’s would accept pork raised from farms that use stalls only for medical emergencies, or breeding.
It’s unclear what the result of that legislation will be, but Erica Pitchford, communications director for Ohio Department of Agriculture, said new federal law could take precedent over Ohio’s standards.
“We have been watching that conversation closely and will continue to do so,” she wrote in an email. “As the legislation progresses, we will continue to evaluate its impact on Ohio’s recently passed housing standards for poultry and, if it becomes necessary to amend our administrative rules to come in line with federal law, the board will be asked to re-evaluate the current standards.”
She added that the department hopes a decision will be made soon, “so that Ohio poultry farmers can confidently plan for the future growth of their business.”
McDonald’s said its decision was made “with input from its suppliers, pork producers and animal welfare experts.”
Temple Grandin, who serves on McDonald’s animal welfare council, praised the decision.
“This change is complex and will require additional resources,” she said in a statement to media. “The 10-year timeline that McDonald’s has outlined is necessary to research and identify better housing alternatives and ensure proper training of employees. This is really good forward thinking, and I commend McDonald’s for doing it.”
National Pork Producers Council criticized the decision.
“We’d be glad to discuss with food companies challenges caused by a transition in production systems,” said NPPC President R.C. Hunt. “But the bottom line is, regardless of any difficulties, the issue of sow housing is about providing the best care possible for our animals. Individual sow housing allows us an option to give that best care.”
According to the pork council, there is “no science-based animal welfare benefit” to group sow housing over other forms of sow housing.
The American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Association of Swine Veterinarians recognize gestation stalls and group housing as appropriate for providing for the well-being of sows during pregnancy, the pork council says.
As an interim step, by 2017, McDonald’s will seek to source pork for its U.S. business only from producers who share its commitment to phase out gestation stalls. To achieve this, McDonald’s will work with producers and suppliers to develop needed traceability systems that will verify pork sourced from non-gestation stall supply chains and assess how to best support producers migrating away from gestation stalls.
“We value our relationship with our suppliers, and our shared commitment to animal welfare,” said Dan Gorsky, senior vice president of McDonald’s North America Supply Chain Management. “Our approach seeks to build on the work already in place, and we are also sensitive to the needs of the smaller, independent pork producers in phasing out of gestation stalls.”