Humane Society files complaint against Smithfield Foods for animal welfare claims

SmithfieldPoliticsPension and WelfareBusinessMcDonald'sSmithfield FoodsQuality Systems Incorporated

A day after Smithfield Foods launched a campaign to illustrate its commitments to sustainability, the Humane Society of the United States filed a complaint to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission charging that Smithfield--the world's largest pork producer--is making false claims. 

In question are the claims that Smithfield producers provide their hogs with "ideal" living conditions and that their animals' "every need is met." The HSUS believes these are not supportable when "the vast majority of its breeding sows are confined in gestation crates — metal cages that virtually immobilize animals for nearly their entire lives."

Gestation crates--in which sows are impregnated and remain for most of their pregnancy without the ability to turn around-- have long been targeted by the Society and other animal rights groups. 

On the company's new smithfieldcommitments.com site, it says that it is trying to phase out gestation stalls at company-owned sow farms, as opposed to those of contract producers, and replace them with group housing.

"By the end of 2011, we will have 30 percent of sows on company farms in group gestation housing facilities. We have been making significant capital expenditures to increase the number of farm conversions."

Smithfield responded to the report with a statement saying: 

"We are proud of our unparalleled track record as a sustainable food producer and stand confidently behind our company’s public statements concerning animal care and environmental stewardship."

As in the past, the HSUS is urging large food service companies, including McDonald's, to use their buying influence to pressure suppliers to change animal welfare practices more quickly.  

“McDonald's has publicly recognized that these crates are not good for animals, but it still buys pork from pigs bred using this cruel system,” stated Paul Shapiro, senior director of farm animal protection at The HSUS. “It’s time for McDonald’s to get gestation crates out of its supply chain.”

This afternoon McDonald's Susan Forsell, Vice President of Quality Systems responded by saying:

"McDonald’s has been a long-time supporter of alternatives to gestation stalls, and we will continue to support the efforts of Smithfield Foods and all of our suppliers to phase them out. Smithfield Foods was the first major pork producer that committed to phasing out gestation stalls, and we support the company’s transparency and progress toward this goal.

"More than a decade ago, McDonald’s developed Animal Welfare Guiding Principles in conjunction with leading independent animal welfare experts, including renowned scientist Dr. Temple Grandin. We expect our suppliers to follow these principles, adhere to our commitment to continuous improvement and incorporate industry-leading management practices in animal welfare. We hold our suppliers accountable for compliance with our principles."

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