US Pork producers say that food companies demands—under public pressure—for sows to be kept in open rather than single stalls will raise consumer pork prices.
Currently the majority of sows in the United States are kept in solitary gestation pens, according to the US National Pork Producers Council. At the time the move to single pens was justified as a cost cutting innovation, reducing piglet mortality and improving sow health. Changing back will be costly.
Ron Plain, an economist at the University of Missouri who held a survey among the producers that control 62% of the sows in the United States, said, "It costs more to make these changes and operate this way, and the question is, who's going to cover these costs? As an economist, I can tell you, ultimately, the consumer is covering the cost of what they buy."
The McDonald’s restaurant franchise chain, and Kroger Company grocery stores are urging pig suppliers to phase out gestation crates.
Animal eights advocates contend that keeping sows in the crates is cruel, producers however reply that the crates benefit efficiency and protect the sows from themselves. At issue is the amount of space. Sows in confined quarters harm one another in establishing social dominance, to prevent this a farmer would have to either give them more space or keep less animals. Both options come at a cost.
Smithfield has said it intends to have phased out the use of gestation crates at its farrowing sites by 2017, McDonald’s by 2022 for its suppliers, and Kroger has not specified a phasing out time-line but is encouraging its suppliers to rapidly move away from using the solitary crates.