Debate over hog gestation stalls continues - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Debate over hog gestation stalls continues

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COGGON (KWWL) -

Several major fast food chains and grocers are slowly cutting off the purchase of pork from suppliers that use gestation stalls, which are used to house pregnant sows.

Now the U.S. Humane Society is joining with other activists in an attempt to get Tyson Foods, the world's second largest meat processor, to stop buying pork from farmers the using gestation stalls. The group SumofUs.org has already collected 250,000 signatures on a petition to Tyson on this matter.

We take a look at both sides of this debate.

Pork production is an important industry in Iowa.  Breeding is needed to keep the business growing.  Putting pregnant pigs in gestation stalls is common practice in the industry, but it's a practice coming under fire.

Sean Dolan's been in the pork production business all his life.  His Coggon operation houses 600 sows.  When sows become pregnant, they're typically put into gestation stalls for about a week, then get transferred into larger, open stalls.  There are plenty of reasons for this practice.

"They gestate for three-and-a-half months, and they need to have some quiet time when they're not getting stepped on and trounced on, and get the proper nutrition, too, so they can develop their babies in their stomachs as well," said Dolan of Newton Pork, LLC.

But activists believe the stalls are inhumane, and applaud corporations who have already decided to quit buying pork from producers who use them.

"Our members have asked us to respond to issues of animal treatment.  And I think there's a big shift happening in terms of how people source their meat and actually caring about where their meat and produce comes from," said Emma Pullman with SumofUs.org.

Dolan says what activists fail to understand is that there's not really a better way to house pregnant sows.  In fact, he's tried other options.   And because of their aggression toward each other, the alternative pens resulted in double the number of hog deaths, compared to using gestation stalls.

"That's the rub.  We don't have any suggestions as far as a better way to raise our animals," said Dolan.

For now, there's no end to this debate in sight.  Farmers like Sean Dolan just hope legislators don't force them to make changes to their operation. 

Sean Dolan says if pork producers are forced to make changes to their operations, it would cost the industry billions of dollars to build new hog stalls.  The costs to farmers would be passed on to you, the consumer, with higher meat prices.

Activists contest that gestation stalls cause health problems for hogs that also lead to higher costs for antibiotic use and the like.

More on the debate from the Iowa Pork Producers Association can be found here.

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