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The Enormous Pig Factor

Touch the Soil News #241

Population is becoming a popular topic – particularly as relates to food. Sometimes the oddest of events can rock the food chain – and impact the population clinging to it.

Recently, low pork prices in China resulted in millions of breeding sows heading to the butcher . From 2014 to 2015, the number of producing pig sows in China dropped by 7.5 million. For perspective, the U.S. sow herd is around 6 million head. Some global food analysts expect pork prices to increase so pork producers step up to the plate and bring on more sows. Global pork production stands at around 112 million tons – roughly 31 lbs. for every person in the world.

The pig factor is not only large in terms of the amount of pork produced, but in the size of operations that dominate the world’s markets. The largest pork producer in the world is the WH Group in China. They have 1.1 million sows. The largest pork producer in the U.S. is Triumph Foods with 408,000 sows. Globally there are approximately 90 million breeding sows.

So what happens to the sows if you must cram them into tight spaces for maximum profit?  The result is called a gestation crate. It’s a small metal stall that is 6.6 feet long and 2 feet wide in which a pregnant pig must spend most of its time. Estimates are that most sows in the U.S. are held in gestation crates for a large part of their lives.

Use of gestation crates has ignited public disgust. The proponents of them might well be fighting a loosing battle.

So here is the scoop on pig production. The gestation period for a sow is 112-120 days. An average liter is 10 piglets. Sows are bred at approximately 1 year of age and produce about 4 liters in their productive life before they are slaughtered at the age of 3. Wild (feral) pigs usually live twice as long.

Gestation crates are banned in the European Union, Sweden and Canada. Jumping on the bandwagon to eliminate sourcing pork raised from gestation crates are Wendy’s Hamburgers, McDonalds and Kellogs. It will take these enterprises about 6-8 years to complete the transition.  While they are not the largest pork producing states in the U.S., the states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Maine, Michigan, Oregon and Rhode Island have banned pig farms that use the gestation crates.

Following is a rather gross video (caution is advised if you have a weak stomach) on an undercover investigation into a large sow facility in which the sows are in gestation crates. You can decide how you feel about it.

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