Officials at Hormel Foods have confirmed reports that the Minnesota-based firm plans to phase out the use of sow gestation crates by 2017.

“The breeding sows at our company-owned farms in Arizona will be transitioning to group sow housing by the end of summer 2012. We will also be making the transition at our farms in Colorado before 2018.

“With nearly 75% of our company-owned sows moving to group sow housing at our farms in Arizona and Colorado, for the purposes of consistent animal handling practices, employee training, personnel transfer and reporting processes, we will also begin the transition to group sow housing at our company-owned farms in Wyoming before 2018. By including our Wyoming farms with our operations in Arizona and Colorado, all Hormel Foods-owned farms will be 100% group sow housing before 2018,” the company said in a recent statement.

Hormel Foods also purchases hogs from more than 775 independent family farmers across the Midwest.

To ensure that the requirements at Hormel Foods for animal care are upheld, the majority of hogs are purchased using contractual agreements. Each hog producer agrees to comply with local, state and federal laws and qualifications outlined in the Hormel Foods Quality Assurance Program, which includes an animal care component. This also applies to Hormel Foods’ owned production facilities.

All producers who supply hogs to Hormel Foods must be certified in the National Pork Board’s Pork Quality Assurance Plus program.

All production sites must achieve Site Status as defined by the PQA Plus program, and all hogs transported to the company must have Transport Quality Assurance certification.

Routine audits are conducted at Hormel’s facilities, and third-party audits provide information to improve animal welfare procedures.

Employees have access to a confidential hotline to anonymously report any animal care procedure that violates company standards.