Smithfield Foods Inc. announced this week that it has fulfilled a commitment it made back in 2007 to provide group housing systems for pregnant sows on all company-owned farms in the U.S.
"Smithfield's leadership in animal care is reflected in today's landmark announcement," said Kenneth Sullivan, Smithfield president and chief executive officer. "Achieving this goal is a testament to the fact that, at Smithfield, we keep our promises. We stand committed to continue leading the industry in both animal care and transparency."
In 2007, Smithfield became the first company to commit to group housing systems. Since then, the company has invested more than $360 million to complete the transition. Smithfield now uses free-access and small group housing systems but said more have been transitioned into small group housing systems.
According to the company, small group housing allows a small number of sows to be in a common open area once they are confirmed to be pregnant and typically includes individual feeding stations, which help minimize fighting among sows for feed.
Free-access systems, on the other hand, consist of a large group of sows (30 to 40) that have access to a common area for lounging and exercise as well as access to individual stalls for feeding. In this system, sows are able to come and go as they please and can close a gate behind them in the stalls if they choose. Smithfield pointed out that it has been observed on company-owned farms that about 90% of sows choose to spend a majority of their time in the individual stalls rather than in the common area.
In addition to the efforts on company-owned farms, Smithfield is also recommending that all of its contract sow growers in the U.S. transition to group housing by the end of 2022. Smithfield is providing guidance and expertise to contract growers, when requested, to help them through the conversion process. However, the company states on its website that transition is not mandatory.
“If growers choose not to participate, their current contracts will remain unchanged, although extensions are less likely,” Smithfield said.
Worldwide, Smithfield has pledged to convert all company sow farms by 2022. Operations in Poland and Romania have already completed their conversions to group housing systems, and Smithfield's joint ventures in Mexico are currently working toward the 2022 goal.
Also this week, Smithfield released a 360-degree, virtual reality video that transports viewers to a company sow farm. The video can be viewed at SmithfieldFoods360.com.