January 24, 2014
No More Gestation Crates, Tyson Foods Tells Farmers
by Robert Kropp
Green Century Capital Management and co-filers withdraw shareowner resolution after world's largest
meat processor asks contract farmers to improve housing standards for pigs.
Corporations whose products are sold directly to consumers must be especially concerned with
reputational risk. Yet despite a 2012 investigation that recorded graphic examples of animal
cruelty at one of its suppliers, Tyson Foods has been one of a dwindling number of meat processors
that have clung to the use of gestation crates for pigs. Gestation
crates, according to the US Humane Society, are used by meat processing companies to confine
breeding pigs in such a way as to nearly immobilize them while they endure repeated impregnations.
When Safeway announced in December
that it is shifting its pork business to suppliers that use group housing systems instead of
gestation crates, it brought the number of companies mandating the more humane practice to 60. In addition
to the fact that the vast majority of Americans want gestation crates banned, economic comparisons
indicate cost savings when group housing instead of the crates are used.
“These individual cages are approximately two feet wide,” the Humane Society reported, “So
small the animals can't even turn around or take more than a step forward or backward.”
Last August, the
Humane Society, Green Century Capital
Management, and the United Methodist Church Benefit Board submitted a resolution to be voted on
by shareowners at Tyson's annual general meeting this month. The shareowners requested that Tyson
report to them on the financial and reputational risks associated with the use of gestation crates.
“Tyson’s failure to disclose the risks associated with the indefinite inclusion of
gestation crates in its supply chain is of concern to shareholders,” the resolution states.
Green Century announced this week that along with its co-filers it has withdrawn the resolution
filed with Tyson Foods after the company wrote to its pork suppliers, requesting that they use sow housing that “should allow sows of
all sizes to stand, turn around, lie down and stretch their legs.”
“We're asking the
contract farmers who manage Tyson-owned sows to implement improved 'quality and quantity of space'
standards in the design of any newly built or redesigned gestation barns beginning in 2014,” the
letter continued. “We also strongly encourage the hog farmers who sell market hogs to Tyson to
improve quantity and quality of space standards for sows when they or their piglet suppliers
re-design or build new gestation barns.”
“Gestation crates are a cruel and highly
controversial part of an industrial meat production system that threatens water supplies, creates
air pollution and contributes to global warming,” stated Leslie Samuelrich, President of Green
Century. “Tyson desperately needed to update its approach to factory farming and this announcement
is a positive signal that it understands the need to reduce the reputational risk the company has
been facing about its practices.”
“Tyson and its shareholders face huge risks if the
company is unable to meet customer expectations for better animal treatment,” Matt Prescott of the
Humane Society added. “While the company's recent move doesn't eliminate that risk, it does
represent an important step toward reducing it.”
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