The president of the National Pork Board said Thursday he is disappointed in the announcement earlier in the day by McDonald’s Corp. that sets a ten-year timeline for sourcing all of its pork from farms that do not use individual stalls to house pregnant pigs.

McDonald’s decision could put significant pressure on smaller farmers who use gestation stalls to care for their animals, said Everett Forkner, a farmer from Richards, MO., and president of the National Pork Board. “For a producer who has built a new barn in the past few years, McDonald’s announced timeline could force them to make significant new investments,” said Forkner. “So to make the conversion, my fellow producers are going to have to go to a banker with a plan that is likely to increase costs and reduce productivity—not a plan that is likely to inspire great confidence in a banker or investor.”

Forkner said publicly held pork production companies with access to capital and bond markets may be able to make the conversion more easily.  “And that’s fine if that’s what they choose to do,” he said. “We believe consumers ultimately are likely to pay these higher production costs. But in the meantime, the additional expenses on farmers forced to make this conversion could increase the risk of them having to leave the business.”

Forkner said the National Pork Board’s position continues to be that peer-reviewed research shows overwhelmingly that both individual stalls and open pens are appropriate ways to provide good care to pregnant sows. These decisions mean that farmers are being told by others which of the two systems works best on their farms, he said.

“I’ve been in this business a long time,” Forkner said. “I know on my own farm I moved from open pens to stalls many years ago because too many sows were being injured or denied feed. When sows are thrown together they can become very aggressive. Dominant sows physically attack the others, bite them and steal their food.  The housing used by most farmers was designed to protect sows from this bullying while they are most vulnerable, during their pregnancies. 

“We fully support continuing to explore new and better ways to protect pregnant sows,” Forkner said. “Farmers are adopting improvements all the time as they study their farms and their animals.  Going backward, though, will just put a huge financial burden on smaller pig farmers while doing nothing to improve the health and well-being of our pigs.”

Read more National Hog Farmer coverage of the gestation stall issue in our Gestation Stall Hot Topic section here