WICHITA, Kan. (AP) -- Spurred by pressure from animal-rights groups, Cargill Pork has announced plans to change how it houses sows.
The Wichita-based company said Monday it will eliminate individual stalls for sows and use only group housing by the end of next year. The company will also require that farms it contracts with use group housing by the end of 2017, The Wichita Eagle reported.
Animal activists have been pushing for a change to the hog industry practice of housing sows in individual steel stalls that are too small for the animals to turn around.
Cargill spokesman Mike Martin says the industry is moving toward group housing because animal-rights groups have convinced consumers to demand that pork is not produced in gestation crates. Martin contends there is no solid scientific evidence that sows are healthier when they are reared in group housing.
"The court of public opinion can be pretty strong and impactful," he said. "As more and more consumers learn where their food comes from, they want to make sure the animals are well-treated, however you define that."
He said Cargill, which has had some sow group housing since 2002, was able to make the move to group housing because it's renovating a 60,000-sow operation in Dalhart, Texas. He said there's little additional cost to choosing group housing up front at the site, which will cost $60 million to buy and renovate.
Paul Shapiro, spokesman for the Humane Society of the United States, called Cargill's move "a significant act of leadership in the pork industry.
"Some are already moving toward it; Smithfield and Hormel have come out, but this is a faster timeline," he said. "And there are some other pork producers who haven't made the commitment, so this sends a strong signal that gestation crates don't have a future in this industry."