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September 25, 2008

Crammed into Gestation Crates

Life for Brazil's breeding pigs

Humane Society International

  • Biting bars in frustration. Gerson Sobreira

Pigs are one of the smartest animals on Earth. Highly social, intelligent, and curious, they engage in complex tasks, form elaborate, cooperative social groups. Scientists have demonstrated that pigs are capable of playing simple video games, learning from each other, and even learning names. Undoubtedly, these animals feel fear, pain and stress.

Yet, most breeding pigs in Brazil are confined in "gestation crates" for virtually their entire lives, enduring a cycle of repeated impregnation. These individual cages are approximately 2 feet wide by 7 feet long—so small the animals can't even turn around or take more than a step forward or backward.

Due to the duration and severity of their confinement, these pigs' suffering is among the worst of all factory-farmed animals. Sows confined in crates are likely to experience boredom, frustration and psychological trauma. They also suffer from numerous health problems due to the confinement, such as urinary infections and lameness.

The science is clear

Renowned animal welfare scientist Dr. Temple Grandin says, "We've got to treat animals right, and gestation stalls have got to go." She continues, "Confining an animal for most of its life in a box in which it is not able to turn around does not provide a decent life." 

The world moves away from gestation crates

In recent years, there has been increased global attention to the abuse of farm animals, especially the welfare of breeding pigs. Gestation crate confinement has come under fire from veterinarians, farmers, animal welfare advocates, animal scientists, consumers and others.

Gestation crate confinement, for all except the first four weeks of pregnancy, is prohibited throughout the European Union. Nine states in the U.S., New Zealand, and the Australian state of Tasmania also have laws prohibiting the confinement of breeding sows.

Leading multinational food retailers are also adopting crate-free purchasing policies.  McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Costco, Safeway and nearly 50 other leading food companies are implementing crate-free policies for their supply chains in the United States.

Major pork producers are also moving away from this practice. Smithfield Foods, the largest pork producer in the world, will be gestation crate-free in its company-owned facilities in the U.S. by 2017, and in Mexico by 2022.  Olymel, the largest pork producer in Canada, also announced it will be crate-free by 2022. Pork producer Cargill is already 50 percent gestation crate-free in its operations.

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