Pork Industry Not So Cuddly After All

Pigs are not only on the shoulders of chefs this spring. They're also on the agenda of the Humane Society of the United States, which yesterday filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission claiming that the National Pork Producers Council's We Care initiative is, essentially, hogwash.

That, despite the council offering cuddly stuffed pigs (like the one pictured here) on its online Pork Store.

The complaint charges that both We Care and its Pork Quality Assurance program hide the fact that the pork industry houses its sows in gestation crates, metal boxes measuring 7 feet by 2 feet. Critics say the crates are so small the animals can't turn around—and the Humane Society alleges that 70 percent of sows in the U.S. are confined in the boxes. That would seem to be at odds with We Care's stated goal "to help demonstrate that producers are accountable to established ethical principles and animal well-being practices."

Though pork producers contend they have to use the crates to prevent sows from fighting with each other, recent pressure from animal-welfare groups has led fast-food chains like Wendy's and McDonald's to say they're renouncing crated pork. Even Big Pork baddies Hormel and Smithfield have vowed to (mostly) end their use of gestation crates by 2017. Perhaps not coincidentally, Smithfield's announcement came shortly after the Humane Society filed a complaint with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, stating that the company was deceiving the public by saying it did not abuse pigs.

The Pork Producers Council calls the Humane Society's current complaint "absolutely false." In a statement to Ad Age, it vowed to "vigorously defend" itself against the complaints, and added that "America's hog farmers are committed to providing humane and compassionate care for their pigs at every stage of life." Videos like this one would seem to contradict that claim, but hey, why quibble over minor details?

Image source: The Pork Store

Rebecca Flint Marx eats and writes in New York City. You can follow her on Twitter. Follow CHOW, too, and become a fan on Facebook.