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Sysco Announces Plan To Eliminate Pig Gestation Crates

An 18-wheeler Sysco delivery truck.

More Space For Sows

Sysco, the largest foodservice distributor in the United States, has announced a desire to eliminate gestation crates from its pork supply lines.

Gestation crates -- also called gestation stalls -- are small cages used for housing pregnant sows in factory farms.

Because the crates are barely larger than the pigs they contain, and because sows are typically kept on a tight cycle of pregnancy and delivery, many animals live most of their lives in spaces too claustrophobic for them even to turn around.

Sysco sent a letter to the Humane Society of the United States, saying:

We use science-based standards for animal welfare and work diligently with our suppliers to ensure humane treatment of animals. We also listen closely to our customers desires. Although there are many ways to house sows, several customers and suppliers have expressed their desire to eliminate gestation crates from their supply chains. Therefore, Sysco is committed to working with its suppliers to create a gestation crate-free supply system, for the good of all. Like many of our customers, we're going to work with our pork suppliers to develop a timeline to achieve this goal.

Goodbye Crates... Eventually

Sysco is a distributor that primarily supplies to restaurants, but also provides food products to healthcare facilities, schools and universities, sports centers, and other establishments that prepare and serve food.

However, the complexity of the company's supply network, and the fact that Sysco doesn't buy directly from farmers, has prevented it from committing to a clear timeline for giving crates the boot. The issue will have to be brought up with go-betweens called meat "providers" one by one.

Cargill, one of Sysco's major pork providers, says only 50 percent of its pregnant sows are crated. Smithfield, another provider, has pledged to eliminate gestation crates from their company-owned facilities by 2017.

A Corporate Trend?

Sysco is the latest link in a growing chain of large food businesses to announce opposition to gestation crates.

Other companies include Kraft, Kroger, Cracker Barrel, Denny's, and McDonald's, among others.

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