Posted on February 29, 2012 at 9:19 AM by Iowa Corn
This is a first in a series of articles called What’s All the Hype? The goal of this series is to help answer questions about food and how it is raised and grown. If you have a topic that you’d like covered, please leave it in the comments section!
Hi, my name is Claire Masker
It’s a confusing arena out there for consumers when they are purchasing food that is nutritious for themselves and their families. It’s even confusing for me, someone who was raised on a diversified crop and livestock farm and now works in the agriculture industry. I have experts at my fingertips every day and I still sometimes get wrapped up in the hype that is out there.
“Hormone Free” “Antibiotics” “High Fructose Corn Syrup” “GMO” “Gestation Crate” “Cage Free” “Grass Fed Beef” “Organic” and “All Natural” are all terms used by food companies to differentiate their product from others. But what does it all mean? Does it mean that these food products are healthier?
Just like most people, I’m trying to be healthier. This means I’m more conscious about what I put in my mouth and make an effort to workout at least five times a week. I’m also training for another half marathon, and have been doing a lot of research on what I should be eating. And let me tell you it is beyond confusing, and everyone has an opinion.
I am by no means an expert, but I work with the experts (farmers) and get to interact with people like Dr. Ruth MacDonald, Department Head of Food Science and Nutrition at Iowa State University, on a regular basis. With this series I hope to help clear up some of the confusion that is out there and help you feel a little bit better about what you are eating.
Last week McDonalds announced that it will require all U.S. pork suppliers to provide plans to phase out the use of gestation stalls (or crates) by May. I believe they did this for marketing, much like they did with their current ad campaign which focuses on farmers. Don’t get me wrong, if a company wants to find a different way to market their product, more power to them, but if it’s just for marketing and not based on science, that doesn’t make sense to me.
When I was younger, my family raised pigs. However, we never raised our hogs in modern buildings, but I wish that we would have. One of the benefits of modern hog buildings and gestation stalls is the ability of pork producers to provide individual care to each pig. With the use of the gestation stall, they can monitor how much the sow (aka mama pig) is eating and closely monitor when they need to be move to the farrowing barn (aka maternity ward). The first time I saw gestation stalls in my Animal Science 114 class at Iowa State, I wished we would have had them on our farm.
The truth is like anything, there are numerous ways to provide housing for pigs. According to the National Pork Board: “Each housing system, including gestation stalls, open pens, free-access stalls and pastures, has welfare advantages and disadvantages that must be considered by an individual farmer. Regardless of the system used, what really matters is the individual care given to each pig." And I agree with this statement, while a pork farm today doesn’t look like the one I grew up on, it’s still people caring for pigs.
Many people ask why we use crates to raise pigs. And from my personal experience, on our farm, the issue of pigs causing harm to other pigs has always been a challenge that farmers have to manage. Pregnant pigs naturally exhibit aggressive behavior (whether they are raised indoors or outside) including biting and injuring other pigs. Pork producers use gestation crates to prevent injuries and mortality. And they continue to address how to use new housing practices to protect the pigs and keep them as comfortable as possible. (Click here for source).
I have the privilege of knowing many pork producers and can tell you that no matter the system they use to raise their pigs they are doing what they believe is best for the animal. They want to raise pigs that are healthy and productive and are always looking for ways to do things better. I just wish that McDonalds would see that and rethink their decision. Because when gestation stalls are used and managed correctly, pigs are productive and healthy, which leads to a great tasting and healthy product!