A Pig Is Not a Can of Soup

Pigs in crates

In my previous column, I discussed the change from husbandry-based animal agriculture, which stresses the proper care of animals as a way of life for farmers, to modern industrial agriculture, which instead values efficiency and productivity, and how this change has negatively affected farm animal welfare. In my opinion, perhaps the worst example of abuse that has arisen out of the industrialization of animal agriculture is the sow stall, or gestation crate, in which a breeding sow, or female pig, is confined for her entire productive life. In other words, this thinking, breathing, living animal is treated by modern production farming practices as if she were nothing more than a can of soup.

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According to standards set by the National Pork Producers, the recommended dimensions of these steel cages are 3 feet high by 2 feet wide by 7 feet long. These crates are used to house a mother pig who may weigh more than 600 pounds. The pig may in some cases be forced by her length to always lie in a constantly arched posture. I have been in dozens of these barns and am always horrified by the sight of these animals. The pigs cannot turn around, shift position or, in some cases, even stand up without hitting the top bars of the cage. As a result, these animals show deviant and heartbreaking behavior. A few years ago, I was a member of the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, which was a group of experts who were charged with researching and writing a critical report about intensive, industrial farm animal production. When this group toured such a facility, half of us left the sow barn moved to tears.

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