WASHINGTON – The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is suing Smithfield Foods, alleging that the pork processor is misleading customers about the company eliminating gestation stalls for pregnant sows.

In a statement to MEAT+POULTRY, the company said, Smithfield is steadfastly committed to the safety, health and comfort of its animals. Contrary to HSUS allegations, Smithfield has been transparent with the public about its implementation of group housing.  As clearly reported in our 2020 Sustainability Impact Report, among many other public communications, we provide group housing for pregnant sows during their 16-week gestation period on our company-owned farms globally. We use individual stalls for breeding to help ensure a sow’s successful conception, a practice supported by multiple scientific studies. We also use individual stalls during farrowing and weaning to protect a sow’s growing litter. We disagree with HSUS’ claims.

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In 2015, the company reported a 20% increase in the number of pregnant sows the company’s production subsidiary, Murphy-Brown LLC, transitioned into group housing on its farms in the United States. By the end of 2014, 71.4% of pregnant sows were in group housing.

The company also reported that its international hog production operations are on track to complete conversions to group housing systems on company-owned farms by 2022.

In its complaint, HSUS said Smithfield Foods’ group housing system is a cycle of crate confinement.

“As described herein, Defendant has been manufacturing, distributing, marketing, and selling pork using advertisements that lead consumers to believe that neither the company nor its suppliers confine pigs in narrow individual crates when, in fact, they do, and for weeks or months at a time,” according to the court document. “These long periods of solitary, severe confinement begin before a sow’s pregnancy and continue for periods of her pregnancy, and then repeat after her piglets are born such that the animals are intensively confined for roughly half their lifetimes.”

“This cycle repeats for their whole lives — amounting to a small reduction but not elimination of gestation crate confinement as Smithfield Foods claims,” HSUS said.

HSUS alleges that Smithfield attempts to shield its practices by “using technicalities, its own misleading jargon, and hidden caveats that no reasonable consumer would understand, assuming they could even find and decode this information.” The complaint goes on to say that the company’s action mislead consumers and commercial buyers and creates confusion over confinement practices on pig farms.

“Smithfield Foods misleads the public about how it treats its pigs,” said Kitty Block, president and chief executive officer of HSUS. “Smithfield Foods widely celebrates that it has eliminated gestation crates and transitioned all of its mother pigs on company-owned farms to group housing — a move it said was motivated by consumer demands.

“But in reality, the company’s ‘group housing’ keeps pigs locked in gestation crates for a significant part of their lives,” Block said. “These contraptions remain standard at Smithfield Foods despite its claims to the contrary, while the intelligent animals inside them cannot even turn around and gnaw on the bars of their crates until their mouths bleed. The public deserves to know the whole truth about the treatment of animals at Smithfield Foods, and our lawsuit intends to hold the company accountable.”

Learn more about the history of gestation stalls here.