Hog industry under pressure to eliminate stalls


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Minnesota's $2.5 billion hog industry is on the defensive, with farmers under growing pressure to change how they raise pigs.
At issue is the widespread practice of housing pregnant sows in stalls so small the animal can't turn around. The hog stall used by most farmers is roughly seven feet long by two feet wide ? about the same size as a pregnant sow weighing 600 pounds or more.

Inside the stall, there is room for the animal to back up a bit, but not turn around. That keeps the sow from contaminating her food and water with her own waste.

Although most farmers say the hog stall is an efficient production tool, the stalls have been the target of a long-running campaign alleging they impose a lifetime of misery on the pigs. But according to new research paid for in part by pork producers, the stalls may well be better for the animals than letting them roam free.

That isn't likely to convince opponents of the practice, however.

"Sow gestation stalls are something that's just not going to be possible to sell to the public," said Temple Grandin, a world-renowned animal science professor at Colorado State University.

Grandin has compared the stalls to living in an airline seat. A consultant for many large meat companies, including Minnesota-based Hormel, she uses her frequent airplane trips to gauge public opinion by showing seatmates pictures of the stalls.

A typical reaction came from someone who had hunting dogs.

"He said 'I wouldn't put my hunting dogs in that,'" Grandin recalled. "And the thing that bothered him was the fact that they couldn't turn around for most of their life."

Some corporations are putting intense pressure on farmers to abandon stalls. Hormel, McDonalds, Safeway and Smithfield Foods all say they'll either stop using stalls, or stop buying pork from stall farms. At least eight states have also passed legislation restricting or phasing out the stalls.

But many people approve of the use of stalls. Firmly in that group, are most of the nation's hog farmers.

Southwest Minnesota hog producer Randy Spronk has watched the criticism of hog stalls grow from a few scattered voices to a concentrated campaign. In his current position as president of the National Pork Producers Council, the country's largest hog group, he's right in the middle of the debate.

"The way it's being portrayed I think is going to mislead society and be detrimental to society in the long run," said Spronk, a third-generation livestock farmer.

Read more at http://www.farms.com/news/hog-industry-under-pressure-to-eliminate-stalls-53432.aspx