Florida's Ban on Gestation Crates
Livestock Update, December 2002
Allen Harper, Extension Animal Scientist - Swine, Tidewater AREC
Florida is a state in which the commercial swine industry would be considered extremely small. But a recently passed amendment to that state's constitution has caught the attention of the swine industry, indeed the entire livestock industry, throughout the country. With over 2 million votes cast, amendment 10 to ban use of gestation crates for housing pregnant sows passed by a margin of 54% for and 46% against.
Farm Bureau representatives in Florida indicate that the ban would only directly affect one existing farm in the entire state and the potential for any growth in swine production in Florida is very limited with or without the ban. But on larger commercial sow farms throughout the country, gestation crates are used extensively. The obvious concern is that public campaigns and politics in more prominent hog production states could dictate how swine producers house and manage their animals.
The Florida election is not the first time that the issue of gestation crates has been in the forefront this year. In June, the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and National Council of Chain Restaurants (NCCR) released a joint report which addressed several animal welfare issues for all types of livestock and poultry production, including sow gestation crates (Livestock Update, September 2002). These organizations represent major food retailers and wholesalers throughout the country and their report demonstrates that end-users of animal derived foods are becoming increasingly interested in the housing and welfare conditions under which food animals are produced. The FMI-NCCR report ultimately recognized that sow gestation stalls have some key advantages such as less aggression and injury among sows and better feeding management and observation to meet individual sow needs. The report identified the major concern with gestation crates as restricting the ability of the sow to turn and walk freely. The report challenged the swine industry to develop an action plan for implementing systems that will improve the welfare of pregnant sows.
The American Association of Swine Veterinarians has conducted an extensive review of literature related to housing management for gestating sows. The summary of this report (Summer, 2002) clearly indicates that group penning systems create a better public perception of sow welfare than individual gestation crates; but, stress and injuries associated with sow fighting in group penning systems are a detriment to sow welfare. Indeed one published report (Barnett and co-authors, Australian Journal of Agricultural Research, 2001, 52:1-28) indicates that "the issue of public perception should not be confused with animal welfare." Ultimately the review summary identifies three important measures in assessing animal welfare: physiological responses (immunity and health, hormonal status, etc.), expressions of specific animal behavior, and animal productivity. Assessing animal welfare in production systems without considering all three of these factors is not a truly objective evaluation of welfare. Furthermore, the summary indicated that the husbandry skills and attentiveness of the stockperson has a major influence on animal welfare in any swine housing system.
On January 22, 2003 at the Virginia Pork Conference in Franklin, Virginia, a special educational session on swine welfare issues will be held. Speaker panel members at this session will include Mark Estienne, Swine Physiologist at Virginia Tech, Jack Keane, the General Manager of the Virginia Division of Brown's of Carolina, and Terrie Dort, President of the National Council of Chain Restaurants. All swine producers and related swine industry folks are encouraged to attend the conference. For details on the conference contact Allen Harper, Extension Swine Specialist (email: firstname.lastname@example.org; telephone: 757-657-6450, ext. 106 or FAX: 757-657-9333).