Does Really Care?

I'm the cynical skeptic in the audience. We are at a breakfast at the International Food Bloggers Conference that is sponsored by the National Pork Board. Yes, there is bacon. The first talk of the morning is about ethical farming by I find it interesting that the Pork Board chooses as their URL. Can we say "lobbyist terminology"?

First you should know that I love pork. It is my favorite meat. Yet I can't help be caught up in the news stories that are about the poor treatment of animals on some farms. (The panelists remind us that these are the minority of farms, not the majority.) I can't help feel for the sows that can't even turn around in their gestation or farrowing pens. As I listen to their presentation, I tweet out, "i'm skeptical too. feels like bit of whitewash at this moment. awaiting Q&A time".

The featured speakers are two women representing two family pork farms. I appreciate them coming and putting out their businesses for us to "see". They are from farming families and I have a great respect for them just for that. And I am sure they are part of a largely misunderstood part of farming as the issue of gestation crates has been a big news story as more and more companies say they will no longer buy from farms that use gestation crates.

First they explain that gestation crates are for the sows during pregnancy. They are used as a way to separate the sows to ensure they get fed properly with the nutrition they need during pregnancy. Sows can get bitchy and become bullies and so an alpha sow could monopolize the food if the sows were all held together. They may even fight.

After they give birth, they are put into farrowing pens. These are the pens where there are some bars that prevent the sow from rolling over and killing the piglets. In both cases the gestation and farrowing pens are for single sows, can allow them to stand, but does not necessarily have enough room for them to turn around.

As many people, I am concerned about the fact that they can't turn around. And what about exercise? There are so many stories about caged chickens, pigs, cows, who can't move! How can that be healthy for the animal? What kind of a 'happy' life could they possibly live? Does an immobile animal that doesn't move much provide quality meat?

At Q&A time I ask about what's the future if they have to move away from crates. The guy from the Pork Board says there was a university study which gave sows the freedom to move between open pens and individual pens. They found that the sows spent 80% of their time in the individual pens, indicating they might prefer the non-harassment/peace found by being by themselves. But they say that may be the future - to give them that choice of being able to move between the two types of pens. Moving them to the individual pens during feeding would certainly ensure they get the proper nutrition.

I also ask if they represent heritage breed farmers as well as mass producer farms that supply supermarkets. They say they do. I'm concerned after the State of Michigan went out and wiped out heritage breed farmers by killing their entire swine herds. Are they really looking out for the smaller farmer as well?

There are so many more questions that I still have. I still worry that we got the lobbyist whitewash. The National Pork Board is giving away a trip to visit a pig farm to a lucky blogger. I hope I am picked. I want to be educated. I hope their tour includes a major provider as well as a smaller, heritage provider. I want to see all sides of the story and I want to be able to share what I learn with you.

Twitter info from panelists: