Move from gestation stalls no silver bullet

BANFF, Alta. — Thirty-five years ago, animal welfare considerations led to sows being housed in gestation stalls.

Sows received individual care, there was no fighting among them and more live piglets were produced compared to previous production methods.

Today, views on animal welfare have changed and hog producers have to comply with them, said Dr. Tom Parsons, a hog researcher and professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

However, loose sow housing isn’t the ultimate in sow welfare, he said after giving a talk at the Banff Pork Seminar Jan. 11. It’s part of the big picture.

“Where I’ve been critical of the animal welfare organizations is that I would say they’ve reduced the sow welfare issue to a single issue, which is whether or not she can turn around,” Parsons said.

“In reality, it’s much more complicated.”

Loose housing addresses only one of the five freedoms that generally define animal welfare: the freedom to express normal behavior with enough space and company of its own kind.

Parsons said the hog industry has worked hard to address other welfare concerns to ensure continued demand for product.

However, those efforts don’t get much attention.

“At some level, I think the animal welfare organizations just kind of wash their hands of all that and have left the industry to sort it out,” he said.

“I think we have done a great job, but we’re still not there all the way.”

The drive to stop using gestation stalls was promoted by people with animal welfare in mind, Parsons said.

“But really it was their ability to convince our customers, whether it’s the fast food restaurants or whether it’s the table service industry or whether it’s the grocers, that they needed this change, and I think it’s safe to say that for many people who ultimately buy pork, it seemed to them that being out of a gestation stall made sense.”

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