WASHINGTON, Jan. 9, 2014 – Tyson Foods sent a letter to its hog suppliers yesterday updating its animal well-being program and recommending that farmers provide more space for pregnant sows.

“Whether it involves gestation stalls, pens or some other type of housing, we believe future sow housing should allow sows of all sizes to stand, turn around, lie down and stretch their legs,” Tyson said in the letter. The second-biggest U.S. pork supplier also said it was encouraging producers to end the use of blunt force as the primary method of killing sick or injured piglets.

We’re asking the contract farmers who manage Tyson-owned sows to implement improved ‘quality and quantity of space’ standards in the design of any newly built or redesigned gestation barns beginning in 2014,” Tyson said.

Earlier this week, Smithfield Foods -- the largest pork processer globally -- updated its sow housing preferences for suppliers, recommending that they switch to group structures for pregnant pigs from gestation stalls or “crates.” Smithfield in 2007 set a policy for its company-owned farms in the U.S. to remove use of stalls during gestation by 2017.

Other pork processors and food companies have made similar commitments over the past few years. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) lists on its web site more than 60 companies that have made varying agreements to provide more room for pregnant sows, most of which include implementation timelines of a decade or so.

“Unfortunately, Tyson’s letter does not mandate anything of its suppliers with regard to sow housing, nor does it outline any timeline by which alternative housing systems must be in place,” HSUS President Wayne Pacelle said in a statement. “Nonetheless, this is big movement from an important company.”

Matt Prescott, HSUS food policy director, said Tyson’s letter “is a carefully-worded way of making clear that its direction is away from gestation crates.”

Tyson said that it plans to work with its suppliers and industry groups, including the National Pork Producers Council, over the coming months on its animal well-being program.

“We’re trying to balance the expectations of consumers with the realities of today’s hog farming business,” Tyson said in its letter. “The pork industry has a history of being responsive to changing market dynamics and we look forward to working with you on our current challenges.”

Additional animal care plans outlined in Tyson’s letter include:

--Increasing the number of third-party sow farm audits conducted through the company’s FarmCheck program.

--Urging hog producers to use video monitoring on their sow farms to increase oversight and decrease biosecurity risks.

--Supporting the use of pain mitigation (such as anesthetic or analgesic) for tail docking and castration of piglets.


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