Meristem Land and Science: Driving Progress in Sustainability


Sow crates phase-out takes hold world wide

Woolworths, Pick n Pay action in South Africa latest examples

Posted: October 23, 2014

The pressure started in Europe. The focus then became North America. Now the drive to phase-out so-called 'sow crates' or gestation stalls has firmly taken hold in a variety of major pockets around the world.

The latest examples include shifts by South Africa based retailers Woolworths and Pick n Pay.

Woolworths has announced that from the end of September, all fresh pork sold at the supermarket chain will be sourced from farms that no longer use conventional sow stalls. The Cape Town headquartered retailer is touting this "introduction of sow-friendly pork" as a first for South African retailers, represents a milestone in the company's "Good Business Journey" sustainability initiative.

'Kinder to sows' marketing push

The move includes a labelling initiative that will see "Kinder to sows" stickers on fresh pork that meets the new sourcing requirements.

"We would like to thank our supplier partners for joining us in giving sows a better quality of life," says Woolworths Managing Director of Foods, Zyda Rylands. "This is a wonderful example of what can be achieved through our supplier partnerships and goes to show how together, we can lead change."

Prodded by rights groups?

As has often been the pattern, the move has been accompanied by communication with a prominent animal rights group and that group - in this case, Compassion in World Farming - participated in the official announcement.

"We are extremely pleased that Woolworths and their pig farmers are changing the way sows are treated. We hope that other producers will soon follow suit," says the organization's spokesperson, Louise van der Merwe.

Woolworths' main home country competitor, Pick n Pay, has followed hot on the heels of this announcement with its own similar stance on sow stalls.

"This is a major step forward for farm animal welfare standards in South Africa," says David North, Pick n Pay Group Strategy and Corporate Affairs Director. "There is no legislation on phasing out sow stalls in this country, and a voluntary industry deadline does not take effect until 2020.

'We think this timetable is too slow. We have therefore been working with our suppliers and with animal welfare organizations on how we can move on a much faster and more ambitious timescale. We thank all these groups for engaging so constructively with us."

Cost and transition challenges

A major aspect of the debate in North America around phasing out conventional sow stalls has been the cost issue and the burden on producers. Experts have also pointed out a main reason for stalls in the first place was to protect gestating sows during a vulnerable time, though innovations and a growing body of research now suggest all things being equal well-designed group systems can achieve the best balance of welfare and production management benefits.

See other example NewStream stories on this evolving issue here:

Reprintable with credit. This article is available for reprint, with acknowledgement of the source as Meristem Land and Science, www.meristem.com.

Meristem is a Calgary-based communications firm that specializes in writing about western agriculture, food and land use. More articles at www.meristem.com.




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