Renewed pressure on use of gestation crates

Animal activists in the US are putting pressure on Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, to phase out the use of gestational crates, which restrict the movement of breeding sows.

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Gestational crates were already banned in nine US states and the EU. And major food providers, including McDonald’s and Burger King, and grocery chains, such as Safeway and Target, have started eliminating crates from their supply chains.
In South Africa, the use of gestational crates is in the process of being phased out – but not without a certain amount of debate.

According to Andries Venter, farm animal protection unit manager at the National Council of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA), gestational crates were unnecessary and were going to be phased out by 2016. “The pork industry has asked for an extension to this deadline and we have declined giving it,” said Venter. However, Simon Streicher, CEO of the South African Pork Producers’ Organisation (SAPPO), said 2016 is not a realistic deadline.

“It’s not possible to do it before 2020 and we are still in discussions with the SPCA over the 2016 deadline. We are fully committed and there won’t be any excuses after 2020,” said Streicher. The extended period was needed to change housing systems, adopt new welfare standards and educate the consumer that locally produced pork was produced under similar, if not better, welfare standards compared to other countries, he said.

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“We have a couple of producers who already meet the new requirements, but some of the smaller producers need to come on board,” said Streicher. According to SAPPO, from 1 January 2013 producers would not be allowed to put sows in farrowing crates for a longer period than one week before their due date. As of 1 January 2020, pregnant sows may be kept in gestation crates for a maximum of 63 days.

“Sows will be allowed in gestational stalls for the first eight weeks after birth, for their own peace and for the protection and development of the piglets,” said Streicher. “After eight weeks they must be put in group housing or single pens. We are fully committed to this.”