January was a ground-breaking month for farm animals. Two of North America's largest pig factory farming companies, Virginia-based Smithfield Foods and Canada's Maple Leaf Foods, announced plans to phase out gestation crates over the next decade. Both companies will replace confinement crates with group pens enabling pigs the freedom to move and socialize. This will positively impact hundreds of thousands of pigs currently confined in appalling conditions.
Gestation crates are considered one of the most intensely cruel practices of agribusiness. The practice is considered so abusive that the European Union is implementing a total ban on gestation crates by 2013. Female breeding pigs—known to possess the intelligence of a three-year-old child—are imprisoned for most of their adult lives in narrow metal cages typically 2' wide by 7' long. Animals in these crates cannot move freely or express their natural behaviors such as wallowing in mud, interacting with their young, or rooting in the earth. As a result, confined pigs exhibit signs of severe mental and physical anguish, such as repetitive or self-destructive behavior, as well as osteoporosis and joint problems. A confined sow will endure years of non-stop breeding, birthing and nursing—in a space so small she cannot move—until she is considered "spent" and sent to slaughter.
Incredibly, farm animals are not protected under the Federal Animal Welfare Act and a majority of U.S. states—including Washington—exempt farm animals from anti-cruelty statutes as long as the current practices are seen as "accepted," "common," "customary" or "normal." But based on growing consumer awareness, the tide is slowly turning for farm animals. The announcement from Smithfield and Maple Leaf comes after Arizona and Florida citizens voted to prohibit gestation crates in their states. Similar discussions are starting to take place in the Washington State legislature.
Visit paws.org for more information on how to raise your concerns on the plight of farm animals with your elected officials. Demand they be given the right to move about freely, engage in their natural behaviors, and live without imposed stress and fear. If we all push to encourage our legislators and food manufacturers to make compassionate decisions, we will see the day when truly humane treatment of animals is the accepted norm.