March 6, 2023


Oklahoma, US, held inaugural conference focused on humane treatment of pigs




US state Oklahoma held its first-ever conference to discuss humane treatment of pigs on March 2.


About 100 animal welfare advocates gathered on National Pig Day to talk about how the animals are treated, particularly female sows, at an event organised and supported by the Kirkpatrick Foundation.


They also discussed how owners of the United States' major pork producers typically raise the animals in a way that favors mega-business profits at both farmers' and consumers' expense.


Various speakers addressed the group about confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), how rural economies are impacted by industrial farming, consumers' attitudes about animal welfare issues, better ways to raise animals consumed for food and pending litigation before the US Supreme Court that challenges a proposition California voters approved in 2018 that established minimum square-feet confinement requirements for veal calves, breeding female pigs and egg-laying hens.


The California measure, called Proposition 12, also banned sales of products related to those animals inside the state if those minimum requirements aren't met, even when the animals are raised and harvested outside the state. The Supreme Court has not yet ruled on the case.


Kirkpatrick Foundation officials said that more than 4 million pigs raised in Oklahoma each year, including 470,000 pregnant sows, are confined inside small spaces where they cannot turn around or stretch throughout their adolescent and adult lives.


"Current industrial use of these crates in CAFOs was adopted as many family farms were taken over by large, corporate farms," said Louisa McCune, executive director of Kirkpatrick Foundation. "Justified by the need to monitor each pig and decrease any aggressive behaviors, gestation crates became the answer of the pig industry to raise the most pigs with the most efficient use of resources and space. It's also the most-cruel treatment of any species in Oklahoma — and at the greatest scale."


Of Oklahoma's 220 million farm animals, officials said about four million live in extreme confinement cages or gestation crates, and that 100% of those are either pregnant pigs or egg-laying hens.


"Oklahomans believe we can do better, and 91% are strongly supportive of regulatory policies that require sufficient space for farm animals to stand up, turn around and stretch their limbs in any cage, crate, or pen," said veterinarian Lesa Staubus, who serves as a programme officer for the Kirkpatrick Foundation.


A bill will test that assertion, at least on a legislative level.


A bill authored by senator George Young and co-authored by Rep. Jason Lowe proposes setting aside US$47 million for pig growers who agree to voluntarily stop using gestation cages for sows as part of their operations.


The measure is pending before the Senate's Agricultural and Rural Affairs and Appropriations committees.


"Oklahoma pork producers have long been committed to six "We Care" ethical principles to sustainably provide a safe, affordable, nutritious protein to customers in Oklahoma and around the world," said Kylee Deniz, the executive director of Oklahoma's Pork Council. "These six priorities include food safety, animal well-being, public health, the environment, our people and our community. In tandem, these principles are the foundation of a successful pork industry that seeks to help feed the world."


Meanwhile, Dr. Bailey Norwood, a professor of agriculture economics at Oklahoma State University, observed that while consumers may tell a survey taker they care about animal welfare, their shopping habits usually don't show it.


"We don't have one set of beliefs or practices when we have to make a decision, and we usually set our preferences based within the context the question is asked." Dr. Norwood said.


- The Oklahoman

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