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Pork producer uncages some pigs

by 5m Editor
13 February 2007, at 9:23am

VIRGINIA - The breeding sows are lined up like parked cars, in cages so small that their flanks come close to touching the bars on either side. They spend most of their lives in these 2-foot by 7-foot spaces, unable to turn, bearing litter after litter of piglets.

This is where life begins for the animals that end up as bacon or ham on grocery store shelves.

But the practice of keeping breeding pigs in tiny cages has become controversial -- and some say it is on its way out.

In late January, Smithfield Foods, the country's largest pork company and owner of millions of pigs in North Carolina, announced that it will phase out the crates. Over the next 10 years, the company will move to a system where most of its 1.2 million breeding sows can run around in group pens. A major Canadian pork producer, Maple Leaf Foods, followed suit last week.

The move won't change conditions for the vast majority of the 60 million pigs raised in the United States, most on corporate farms that house the animals in crowded concrete and metal barns.

Still, animal rights activists say it is the beginning of a shift that will lessen the suffering of some animals that produce dinner.

"The pigs in these cages are intelligent animals," said Paul Shapiro, head of the factory farming campaign for the Humane Society of the United States. "They have nothing to do except for drink water and eat food when it's placed in front of them, so what they do is they go insane."

Smithfield doesn't acknowledge that the crates are inhumane. Company officials say that abandoning them was a simple business decision, prompted by requests from major customers such as McDonald's.

The Humane Society, the country's largest animal rights group, has mounted a national campaign to draw attention to caged farm animals, including veal calves, egg-laying hens and breeding sows. It has pushed many restaurants to take a closer look at farming practices.

Source: The News&Observer

5m Editor