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Kyle Potter, Published August 05 2013

Protesters call on Wal-Mart to ditch cramped pig pens

FARGO – With a 10-foot-tall inflatable pig at their side, a small group protested outside the Wal-Mart on 13th Avenue South here on Monday – part of a national tour calling on the retail giant to weed out pork providers that protesters say treat pigs cruelly.

Mercy for Animals’ biggest beef with Wal-Mart’s pork is how the pigs are housed. At least one of Wal-Mart’s providers uses gestation crates, a common but controversial method that puts each sow in a cramped stall that limits movement.

The protesters’ giant inflatable pig was also crammed into a crate, its body painted to symbolize the bloody sores opponents of the practice say animals get from rubbing up against the confining cage.

Jeni Haines, MFA’s campaign coordinator, said pigs who eventually line Wal-Mart shelves often suffer that and more. They’re driven insane inside the close quarters of a gestation cage, unable to move or even turn around, she said.

“The hidden cost of Wal-Mart’s cheap pork is blatant animal abuse,” Haines said.

The National Pork Producers Council has defended the use of gestation crates as one of several housing options that may be the best for pigs’ health and safety. A ban on the crates wouldn’t be “in the best interest of the pigs,” the council says on its website.

Wal-Mart did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

David Newman, a swine specialist with North Dakota State University Extension, said gestation stalls allow farmers to better monitor feeding, stop pigs from fighting one another and prevent sows from crushing their newborns. It’s been the most common method since the 1980s, he said.

There are a number of alternatives, like roaming in a pasture or “group sow” fixtures, but Newsman said each method has its own issues. It’s not the crates that are the problem, he said, but how they’re managed.

Nonetheless, public pressure has prompted some national retailers to call on their pork providers’ to phase out gestation crating.

Kroger, the nation’s largest grocery chain, began calling on its pork providers last summer to move away from housing its pigs in the slim stalls. Wal-Mart Canada made a similar announcement earlier this year. Several states and the European Union ban the use of gestation crates.

Newman said there’s ongoing research to find the best way to house pigs, but that may take time. In the meantime, he asked for patience.

“No one cares about the welfare of the animals more than the people that raise them,” Newman said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kyle Potter at (701) 241-5502