Smithfield responds to animal welfare allegations

by Meat&Poultry Staff
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WASHINGTON – An undercover investigation by The Humane Society of the United States allegedly depicts the inhumane treatment of pigs at a Virginia farm owned by a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods while calling into question the company’s 2007 commitment to phase out its use of gestation stalls.

The investigator, who spent a month working at the Smithfield-owned facility in Waverly, Va., allegedly documented numerous abuses, including the use of gestation stalls; inhumane attempts to move an injured animal; mishandling of piglets by employees; and incorrect stunning of animals.

Smithfield issued the following response to the allegations:

“At Smithfield Foods, our number-one priority is food safety along with the care and safety of our employees and our animals at all of our facilities, it said. “We have a long history of leading the industry with innovative programs to demonstrate that leadership in order to provide our customers with a safe and abundant food supply.

“Currently, the company's well-defined animal-welfare policy and procedures have been in action in the form of an ongoing investigation since last weekend, when we first learned of a possible animal abuse incident at one of our facilities through our employee animal welfare hotline,” it added. “This was then followed by today's HSUS release of a hidden video.

“To further expedite the investigation of this incident, we have engaged renowned animal-welfare expert Dr. Temple Grandin to help us determine the facts of the events depicted in the video and recommend any policy and procedure adjustments that may be called for, the statement continued. “Also assisting in the investigation and on-site at our farms today is Dr. Richard Wilkes, state veterinarian and director, Division of Animal and food Industry Services, Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Should the investigation yield any wrongdoing on the part of any Smithfield Foods employee we will take appropriate action up to and including termination, pursuant to our animal-welfare policy."

The company also addressed the issue of eliminating gestation stalls from its production facilities. “We are continuing our efforts to eliminate gestation stalls from our sow farms. Even during the worst of the recent recession for this country and especially the difficult financial situation the hog industry faced, we maintained that commitment by continuing the engineering and planning processes during that time. As noted in our shareholder's meeting on Sept. 1, 2010, we have restarted the capital investment and are actively in the process of converting a number of our company sow farms from individual gestation stalls to group housing arrangements for pregnant sows,” the statement concluded.
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