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Retailers Move Away From Gestation Stalls

Retailers Move Away From Gestation Stalls

Over the past six months many restaurants and retailers have been leaning on pork suppliers to transition away from housing pregnant sows in gestation crates within the next five to 10 years.

Animal advocacy groups argue that these small stalls are cruel because sows are so limited in space they cannot turn around or lay down. With growing consumer interest in animal welfare, it’s not surprising that retailers are urging suppliers to leave these crates behind.

The retail food industry has moved quickly. Just since January, McDonald’s, Burger King, Denny’s, Wendy’s, the Compass Group, Safeway and Kroger have announced intentions to have their suppliers eventually phase out these crates. Whole Foods Market and Chipotle Mexican Grill already source all of their pork from gestation-crate-free suppliers.

Social-media-savvy advocacy groups have prompted retailers to make policy changes.

After the advocacy group Mercy for Animals took undercover footage at the pork supplier Christensen Farms’ Hanska, Minn., facility, Costco and Kmart asked their suppliers last week to phase out gestation crates.

Wal-Mart, which also sources pork from Christensen Farms, has not yet changed its animal welfare guidelines, according to MFA; as a result, MFA launched a Wal-Mart focused campaign last week.

Some meat manufacturers have responded to these advocacy groups.

Negative consumer reaction to disturbing undercover footage taken by the Humane Society of the United States likely helped motivate Smithfield Foods to recommit in 2011 to its dropped goals to do away with gestation crates by 2017. 

Related story: Costco Asks Suppliers to Go Crate-Free

As more large pork suppliers phase out these crates — Hormel Foods and Cargill have also made commitments to do so — it will be easier for retailers to exclusively  source gestation-crate-free pork.

Similarly, the wider availability of certified sustainable seafood has resulted in an almost industrywide movement to put together seafood sustainability policies. Nearly all major retailers have developed seafood sustainability partnerships with environmental groups.

Going forward, I anticipate that restaurants and retailers will partner more closely with meat suppliers and nonprofits to create specific guidelines for treatment of livestock.

Humane treatment of animals has become a shopper expectation and part of the cost of doing business.

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