HOUSTON – Sysco, the largest foodservice distributor in North America, announced it would work with its suppliers to develop a timeline to phase out gestation crates for pregnant sows.

“Sysco takes its role as a responsible corporate citizen in the food supply chain seriously,” the company said in a statement. “We use science-based standards for animal welfare and work diligently with our suppliers to ensure humane treatment of animals.

“We also listen closely to our customers desires. Although there are many ways to house sows, several customers and suppliers have expressed their desire to eliminate gestation crates from their supply chains. Therefore, Sysco is committed to working with its suppliers to create a gestation crate-free supply system, for the good of all.”

The move comes after the company held its Animal Welfare Advisory Council annual conference July 20. Attendees included representatives from industry, academia, auditing, and Sysco's customers. Presentations at the meeting covered a range of topics related to poultry, egg, and beef and dairy cattle production. Presenters included Dr. Temple Grandin, animal welfare expert and Meat&Poultry contributing editor, and Kathi Brock of the American Humane Association.

Sysco serves approximately 400,000 customers from more than 180 locations throughout the US, Canada and Ireland. The company recorded $37 billion in sales in fiscal 2010.