A decade ago, Smithfield, which claims to be the world’s largest pork processor, announced an ambitious plan to move all of its pregnant sows on company-owned farms from single-housed to group housing systems by 2017.
The business has now claimed that 87% of pregnant sows on its 460 company-owned US farms have been moved to group housing, a 6% increase on 2015.
“We are proud to have nearly completed our group housing transition — a process we’ve remained dedicated to for nearly a decade,” said Stewart Leeth, vice-president of regulatory affairs and chief sustainability officer at Smithfield Foods.
“At each farm along the way, we’ve made changes that have benefited both our animals while positively impacting the efficiency and environmental sustainability of our farms.”
The animal welfare verdict
“It is encouraging to see that Smithfield Foods are well on track to fulfil their 2017 commitment for the removal of sow (gestation) stalls and transition to group housing on company owned farms," said Compassion in World Farming director of food business Tracey Jones.
"Despite the long time scale, when large multi-nationals, such as Smithfield Foods, make change across all their supply chain, the impact on animal welfare can be significant, so we applaud them for their commitment to improving the well-being of sows.
"Companies cannot be complacent about the need to future-proof their supply chain, and we urge Smithfield Foods and others to start planning for the removal of sow stalls in the observation period - the period from insemination to pregnancy confirmation - and the adoption of free-farrowing systems, which are increasingly becoming commercially viable.”
CEO hails animal welfare ‘progress’
The change to get nearly nine out of 10 pregnant sows living in group housing has cost Smithfield $360m. On many of the farms, extra building work was needed, in addition to new equipment and the development of new feeding and watering systems.
However, Smithfield is not an entirely self-sufficient in its pig herd and uses 2,100 contract growers too. By 2022, it expects all of its contract growers to have moved to group housing systems.
Its hog production operations in Poland, known as AgriPlus, and its Romanian operation Smithfield Ferme fully converted to group housing on company-owned farms several years ago. Company-owned pig farms in Mexico have been told to convert to group hosing by 2022.
Kenneth Sullivan, president and CEO of Smithfield Foods, said he was “proud of the progress” the business had made in terms of animal welfare. Sullivan added that the move has added value to its pork production operations.