The legislature of Oregon has become the first in the nation to pass a ban of sow gestation stalls. Two states, Florida and Arizona, approved voter ballot initiatives outlawing their use.
Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski signed legislation June 28 that takes effect in 2013.
State leaders heralded its passage and suggested the measure “sends a strong message to the agribusiness industry that gestation crate confinement is simply too cruel and inhumane for anyone to support.”
National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) President Jill Appell responded that the new Oregon law doesn’t prove anything.
“This legislated ban does not offer any solutions, and it does not mean that welfare will improve. It just means that it is going to make it more difficult for some producers to handle their animals and will undoubtedly add to their costs at a time when costs have been increasing due to the price of feed,” she says.
The Altona, IL, pork producer went on to say that animal welfare can’t be gauged by the type of facility animals are raised in. “We believe that sows can perform well in different facilities and there is no evidence that sows always perform any better in pens than they do in stalls.”
Appell declares: “It is the management of those sows that makes the difference. That has always been the case. Whether they are in pens or stalls, sows can be treated very humanely.”
Paul Sundberg, DVM, vice president of science and technology for the National Pork Board, supports those sentiments. A review of more than 800 research papers on stalls vs. pens published by the American Veterinary Medical Association in 2005 looked at various hormonal, behavioral, physiological and productivity indices that were recorded in different sow housing systems. “The body of these papers came up with the same conclusion that the Pork Board did in their own review of sow housing in 1997, and that was that there isn’t one system that is better than another,” he says.
Sundberg amplifies: “There isn’t one system that is going to meet all of the needs of the animal all of the time in the best way possible. There has got to be a balance.”
In stalls, sows are individually housed and are able to access food and water without competition. But they can’t turn around, he says.
In pens, sows can turn around at will, but they face competition for feed and water that requires a different level of management, Sundberg explains.
When Appell visited Europe last November, her group toured some farms where producers had free-access sow gestation stalls for feed and water and a pen area for exercise. The producers told her unequivocally that the sows preferred the safety and security of the stalls 95-97% of the time.
She notes that the NPPC is currently trying to develop a strategy for animal welfare that the public will understand and accept, so that in the future citizens can make informed decisions based on the facts.