By Stephanie Carroll Carson
SALISBURY, N.C. - This week, Salisbury-based Delhaize America announced it will require its pork suppliers to produce reports regarding their progress in eliminating the use of gestation crates from their supply chains. The company is the nation's ninth largest grocery chain, with stores including Food Lion, Hannaford and Bottom Dollars.
Delhaize spokesman Michael Norton explained why the company is taking a stand.
"We want to make sure it happens as a broad change that is effective for everybody - for the consumer, for the farmer and for all the people that have a stake in sustaining safe, quality food," Norton said.
In recent years, organizations such as the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) have pushed the agriculture industry to eliminate the use of gestation crates, which are cages used in breeding pigs. Critics say the crates are so restrictive that a crated animal cannot turn around during its entire life.
Delhaize is one of 60 major food companies working to eliminate gestation crates from their supply chains, including McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, Safeway, Target and Oscar Mayer.
Josh Balk, HSUS food policy director, said it is up to farmers to get on board with a national trend.
"Pork producers are starting to see the writing on the wall," Balk said. "Their major pork buyers are mandating 'no more gestation-crate pork,' and if pork suppliers comply, then they'll continue to have business. If they refuse to move, they're going to lose their business. It's as simple as that."
With North Carolina ranking number two in hog inventory in the United States - with almost 9 million pigs - Balk said getting on board is a matter of survival for the state's pork producers.
"Pork producers in North Carolina have the same direction that they're going to have to move if they want to remain in business. Pretty soon, producers who use gestation crates will have no place to sell their pork," he said.
An Iowa State University/USDA study found that group housing of hogs - which is believed to be more humane - cost 11 percent less than using gestation crates. The study is available at www.cals.iastate.edu. Audiofile.