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  • The more atheists tell me that pigs have more value than human babies (born or unborn), the more pigs I'm going to eat. Bring on the crates!! We've ...


  • The "hot air" is the paper by McGee, not in organic farming. Please see the response of IFOAM - Organics International at www.foam.bio.


  • I just ate a pork chop. Yummy. And i grew up on a farm and we put pigs in crates. Of course they can lie down in there. But lose sows often lie on their ...


  • No, dismissing animal feelings because we "do not know" is unjust. But just for the record, surmounting evidence illustrates that animals have feelings.


Most recent stories

  • Translating Food Technology: Why don't farmers save their own seed?

    Why did farmers stop saving their own seeds?

    The expected corporate merger of seed company Monsanto and crop-chemical company Bayer, expected to take shape by the end of this year pending approval from the regulators in 30 countries around the world, has raised a new round of concern that a small handful of companies are coming to control nearly all the seeds used by farmers. Take the two biggest crops in this country, for instance. According to Wall Street analyst Mark Gulley, Monsanto now holds 36 percent of the seed corn market and 28 percent of the seed soybean market after the merger.

    “If these posed mergers work like all of the past ag supply mergers that we have already experienced," Nebraska Farmers Union President John Hansen told Colorado's Summit Daily, "it will mean that [farmers] have fewer choices in the market place....”

    That continuing market concentration fans the flames of Internet mythology that farmers have lost control of their seed destiny, including stories of farmers being sued for replanting seed harvested from plants of purchased seed (sometimes true), that farmers get sued when nature blows the pollen of neighbors' crops into their fields and pollinates theirs (not so true), or that companies have genetically engineered "suicide seeds" to cross-breed with plants and render them sterile so they can't reproduce usable seed in a next generation, forcing all farmers to come under the thumb of "Big Ag" to buy replacement seed year after year (ridiculously untrue).

    It all raises an interesting question that may occur to some of your shoppers: Why in the world did farmers ever give up so much control over something as important to their livelihood and stop saving their own seed? Why do farmers do that?

    It's not been that simple for more than a century. Yes, in pre-industrial America, when 9 out of ten people relied on their own farms to feed themselves, the typical farmer did depend largely on his own crop to provide seed for the following season. But as agriculture grew, that practice went by the wayside quickly. The nation's first commercial seed seller opened in Philadelphia only a decade after the nation's independence. By the last quarter of the 1800s, more than 100 U.S. seed companies were handling a large quantity of seed corn. By 1960, at least 96 percent of all corn seed was a purchased seed not grown on the original farm. Even as early as 1940, when USDA started collecting reliable statistics, less than half the red clover seed and less than 10 percent of the alfalfa, the two most important hay seeds, were being used on the farm where they were originally grown. Farmers have been buying seed from specialists for a long time.

    It's made farming more reliable. It wasn't Monsanto that led to widespread abandonment of saved seed in this country. It was biology. After Congress set aside $1,000 in 1839 to collect and give seed away free to farmers, literally billions of packages were given to farmers until the program ended in 1923. But complaints soon grew widespread about the reliability of those seeds, and despite some public efforts to improve plant breeding, farmers were often disappointed with the reliability of those public seeds.

    About halfway through that period, a Czech monk named Gregor Mendel unlocked the key to specifically identifying genetic traits that farmers in the past had bred into plants and animals only by the generational process of trial and error. When commercial companies began applying Mendel's concepts to seed breeding around the turn of the century, the age of the "hybrid" seed was born.

    As this video clearly explains, hybridization tightly controls breeding of parent plants in order to help remove the random chance that occurs in nature—the reason some of us are born blonde, some brunette, some red-headed. Like specific building blocks, beneficial traits like disease resistance or tolerance to drought will reliably "express," or appear, in the hybrid plant, in the first seed that goes into a field as predictably as it does in the 10,000th. That predictability is the reason for any given Nebraska corn field's row after row of uniform plants. It's also the reason the Nebraska legislature is currently considering a bill that would allow a restraining order or injunction to be imposed on anyone who sells or represents corn seed as a hybrid variety if it doesn't meet the standards to do so.

    And that predictability of a hybrid's performance is the reason farmers don't save hybrid seeds for the following season. By law of averages, only half the plants in the second generation of a hybrid seed will express the traits you originally wanted. Each succeeding generation of saved seed will dilute that trait further. Farmers buy hybrid seed rather than save their own because they know the cost of returning to the first-generation seed is generally worth it to get seed that grows true.

    It's made them more productive. Going hand-in-hand with that reliability has come productivity by using purchased seed. Even advocates for sustainability and what's known as "open pollination," or use of seeds that don't rely on commercial, often patented, parent lines, don't doubt the boost in productivity that's been brought about by hybrid seeds. All else equal, studies show, modern hybrids often yield much more that open pollinated varieties, and they have done so for going on a century now.

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  • Navigating the New Food Movement: What's really behind the new chicken-meat quality problems

    What's really going on with chicken meat

    Suddenly, it seems, the quality of U.S. poultry meat has gone to pot. For about 18 months, social media have repeated complaints over "newfound" problems with the quality of poultry, particularly high-margin whole breasts, including these conditions:

    • White striping. White fat striations in the meat running parallel to the muscle fibers.
    • Woody breast. A degeneration of the breast muscle that causes connective tissue to replace muscle, giving the meat a stiffer texture.
    • Green muscle disease. A condition caused by lack of blood supply in the live bird to the muscles forming the breast tender, it results in damage to the muscle similar to a bruise that can eventually cause the meat to take on a green tint.

    What gives?

    Although it's dangerous to ascribe social media trends to a single incident, it appears the attention dates back to a "scientific report" and PR campaign video by by the animal-welfare advocacy group Compassion in World Farming.

    “While the specific causes of muscular disorders like [white striping] are still being researched, the vast majority of studies conducted thus far have found a correlation between fast growth, heavier weights, higher breast yield, and the development of myopathies in broilers,” the CIWF campaign claims. The YouTube video calling striping "a disease," that's "similar to muscular dystrophy in humans," implying eating chicken that shows the condition is a health risk for consumers.

    "It kinda grosses me out," says one on-camera talent.

    Minus the breathless alarmism, here's what we really know about these meat problems:

    • White striping. This relatively new condition in poultry breeding was first described in 2010 and is believed to be a genetic condition related to selecting breeding birds that grow fast. Despite allegations by the CWIF campaign that it causes poorer quality meat based on cherry-picking some limited studies, most of the scientific concensus is that striping doesn't make the meat less palatable or less nutritious. What it does do, however, is make the breast less pleasing to the consumer's eye, which as you would expect caused more than half of shoppers in a recent survey to pass it by. Researchers are still attempting to identify exactly what causes the condition, although we do know that it tends to occur more in heavier birds.
    • Woody breast. Woody breast may or may not be just another presentation of the same underlying condition causing white striping, but it does lead to worse meat quality beyond simple aesthetics. Scientific speculation suggests it might be a combination of lack of oxygen getting to the muscle tissue, matabolic stress, calcium levels in muscle tissue or muscle-fiber changes similar to those a bodybuilder undergoes during training. Whatever the cause, researchers do believe it's at least associated with purposely breeding birds to grow faster and develop relatively large breasts.
    • Green muscle disease.  First known as Oregon disease because it was studied at Oregon State when it first appeared in turkeys almost a half century ago, this condition is now believed to be appearing in broilers because the genetic selection for large breasts causes the bird's body to basically not leave enough room in its anatomy for the large muscles without choking them off, which causes the typical bruising.

    Regardless of cause, most of the science agrees no credible evidence has yet been presented that any of the conditions contribute to the true underlying criticism of the CIWF campaign, that they cause the affected birds to suffer—a fact testified to by the reality that researchers can't accurately predict which birds are affected while they're alive. This latest campaign appears to be another manifestation of a new-media public relations technique that's becoming familiar in its predictability: Special-interest groups pushing for changes to food and farming practices in the name of sustainability, animal-welfare and food-justice are doing so via an end-run attack on meat quality and how broiler chickens are bred.

    Launched in earnest by a November 2015 white paper by the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, advocates have been urging large food companies to require their poultry suppliers purposely use chicken breeds that grow slower. The push to get large food companies to force chicken companies to slow down the growth rate of their birds is following the pattern that has taken "cage-free" egg production from fringe to mainstream in less than a decade. Backed by public relations campaigns by groups like Mercy For Animals, the nonprofit animal-rights group behind several recent undercover animal-cruelty videos which Farmer Goes to Market has reported on, they have slowly but surely pressured the retail chain to buy in. And they have officially claimed victory: Cage-free eggs are now inevitable.

    Next up is the so-called "slow chicken" movement. Since March 2016, a string of large retailers have announced they would agree to require the new standards of their suppliers by a future date, saying they would demand their chicken suppliers start breeding for slower growth

    Meanwhile, a study released by the National Chicken Council two days ahead of the latest announcement argues the environmental, economic and sustainability implications of raising slower-growing chickens would be negative, not positive. If only one-third of broiler chicken producers switched to a slower-growing breed, NCC's analysis predicts, nearly 1.5 billion more birds would be needed annually to produce the same amount of meat currently produced. That increase in the chicken population would demand an equally tremendous increase in water, land and fuel consumption.

    Get ready to be 'volunteered' into the movement to commit to slow-growing chicken, the same way you've volunteered to go to cage-free eggs. If you get campaign pressure applied on your store, we'd like to hear from you. Leave a comment (anonymous is OK), or send us an This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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  • Foresight on Food Politics: Yes, please! We'd love a little more science on these food-policy issues

    More science on these food issues? Yes please!

    On this year's annual Earth Day, April 22, about 1,000 people in Omaha joined protestors in 600 other cities to March for Science, according to the World-Herald. The movement was part of an international show of support for "evidence-based decision-making," according to the march founders. Among those speaking in Omaha against global warming, lead poisoning and other science-related topics, says the World Herald, was Alan Kolok, director of the Nebraska Watershed Network, an organization of college students that supports small-scale farming, sustainable development and tighter restrictions on pesticides. Like several of the sponsoring organizations of the March for Science, Kolok said he is encouraged by the public's response to "resistance to science" in making policy. Some of those sponsoring groups include:

    • The Union of Concerned Scientists, a continual critic of biotechnology in food production.
    • Center for Science in the Public Interest, the group with a long, dubious track record of lobbying for cost-boosting food-service regulations, including banning trans fats, regulating salt as hazardous, mandating nutrition information on menus, and restricting youth access to vending machines.
    • The Center for Food Safety, a major partner in the “Keep Nature Natural” campaign, which receives funding from the organic food industry to "combat the negative effects of technological progress." 
    • Environmental Defense Fund, the environmental-activist group that dresses itself up as a “partner” in helping businesses improve their sustainability, such as recent restrictions on diesel-driven generators many supermarkets rely upon.
    • Friends of the Earth, a self-professed "outspoken" environmental justice organization that has helped prevent marketing of genetically modified salmon in the United States.
    • Riverkeeper Alliance, an environmental group that aims to protect rivers from livestock farms not by encouraging use of scientific technology, but by impeding farms' growth or forbidding them outright through local regulations.

    Now that these political groups have discovered the need to support more and better science in policy making, Farmer Goes to Market asks, Please, could we in the food chain get a little more support for science on these issues, too?


    A recent survey showed 88 percent of respondents said foods containing genetically modified organisms should be labeled so consumers can assess their risk, but the same poll found only about 40 percent admitted to anything more than a fair or poor understanding of what GMOs really are. Is that fear grounded in scientific reality?  A 440-page report by the National Academy of Sciences, the non-profit non-governmental organization that serves as the science advisor to the U.S. government, summarized years of research on genetically engineered crops. And its conclusion: No meaningful evidence has been discovered in any of that research showing that genetically engineered crops now in use are any different from conventionally bred crops. No evidence has come forward that GMO crops have had a direct negative impact on the environment.

    Because of that lack of evidence, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has officially said there is no need to label GMO products. The safety of biotech products has been likewise officially confirmed by numerous scientific groups, some of which sponsored the March for Science, including:

    • The American Medical Association
    • The Society of Toxicology
    • The International Life Sciences Institute
    • The National Academy of Sciences in the United States
    • The Royal Society of the United Kingdom
    • The World Health Organization
    • The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
    • The European Commission

    In 2016, more than 100 Nobel-recognized scientists published a letter reprinted by the Washington Post demanding the environmental organization Greenpeace call a halt to its campaign targeting GMOs. The scientists called it a "crime against humanity" to stand in the way of GMOs needed in agriculture to prevent global starvation. “The scientific consensus," the laureates' letter in the Post said, "is that gene editing in a laboratory is not more hazardous than modifications through traditional breeding and that engineered plants potentially have environmental or health benefits, such as cutting down on the need for pesticides."


    Despite food marketers' wholesale rush to adopt and hype "raised without antibiotics" programs, no scientific evidence supports the claim that antibiotic use by farmers has caused human diseases that can't be treated. Even the scientific critics of farm antibiotic use speak only in terms of likelihood and probability that farm antibiotics could be the contributor to human drugs becoming less effective in fighting illness in people. Arguments that focus the blame for failing human antibiotics on farmers ignore the reality that, according to experts, from at least 95 percent to as much as 99 percent of the drug-resistance problem can easily be laid at the door of human drug over-prescribing and abuse.


    The resistance to science when it comes to labeling "hormone-free" foods is so thorough that the U.S. Food & Drug Administration actually requires marketers to remind shoppers of that science on each label (“From cows not treated with rbST. No significant difference has been shown between milk derived from rbST-treated and non-rbST-treated cows”) and ("Raised without the use of hormones. All chicken and pork are raised without the use of hormones.")

    Still, advocates for small-scale and sustainable agriculture continue to misuse science in trying to connect hormone use in beef with reports that boys and girls appear to be maturing from months to years earlier than commonly used norms. That hormone non-science pervades the Internet, typically culminating in advice to buy and eat organic produce and free-range, organic meats to reduce exposure to added hormones.

    Although it's understandable to assume the implantable growth hormones farmers use in beef cattle might cause changes in people who eat the meat, any real danger is a non-starter, according to the science. The fact is, the natural proteins in both plant-based and animal-based foods form hundreds, if not thousands, of naturally occurring steroid hormones in almost all foods. And all are broken down by the process of digestion in the stomach, which means by the time they enter the bloodstream, they will have been so reduced to their component parts that they will have lost any ability to biologically affect the human reproductive system.

    In fact, most scientists who understand the biological mechanics of early puberty agree that youth today, particulary young women, may be maturing earlier than their ancestors because, ironically, their diets are better than they've ever been. Girls in particular must achieve a certain body mass for puberty to begin. Today's relatively better nutrition—and, yes, today's increase in obesity—means modern girls reach that critical mass at an earlier age than their mothers and grandmothers, which is the likely reason they are entering puberty sooner.


    Every year, the Pesticide Action Network returns to reprise its frightening but highly scientific-looking story of poisonous pesticides lurking in your produce section. The California non-governmental organization urges citizens to repeat the information provided by its website and other materials as often as possible, and it all sounds quite scientific: "Our website WhatsOnMyFood.org links pesticide food residue data from the USDA with toxicological profiles for each chemical, making this information easily searchable. The end result is a litany of common pesticides, most showing up as residues on any of 93 different foods listed, ranging in incidence from none at all to as high as nearly 90 percent. But in all the scientific smokescreen, Pesticide Action Network fails to enter the most important scientific discussion of all: Does it matter?

    As Farmer Goes to Market has cautioned in the past: The Network’s data on incidence of pesticides has to be correctly decoded. Only then does it form a more accurate picture of the real issue—exposure. We found that in all cases, the amount of produce necessary for adults and children to eat daily, according to the minimum safety standards established by scientific testing for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, are far beyond the physical capability, let alone the desire to do so.

    That kind of fast-and-loose interpretation of pesticide science is precisely what led to a blistering 2014 indictment of the "pesticide-free" tendancies of organic marketing, accusing the organic-food industry of building its 3,400-percent increase in sales over the last quarter century only by using deceptive marketing practices. The 16-page research review studied more than 150 existing scientific sources to evaluate the organic industry's health claims--both those actively expressed and those only assumed by consumers but permitted to stand by marketers. The results?

    "Our review," the authors write, "suggests a widespread organic and natural products industry pattern of research-informed and intentionally-deceptive marketing and advocacy related practices with the implied use and approval of the U.S. government endorsed USDA Organic Seal."


    Half a year ago, McDonalds surprised the food world by pronouncing it would require all the eggs it buys to come from farms that refuse to put hens in cages, opening a floodgate of other companies who have now made similar claims. Six months later, the burger maker's poster child for its self-proclaimed "transparent, science-based" decision, world-famed animal-welfare expert Temple Grandin, was pleading her case to Toronto's Globe and Mail that, well, McDonald's hadn't really consulted her about whether any good scientific reason existed to do so.

    Had McDonald's done so, it might not have gotten the answer its marketing department wanted. California, Michigan State, Iowa State and USDA Agricultural Research Service scientists, for example, spent three years analyzing hen housing, measuring its environmental impacts, hen health and welfare, and egg quality and safety. Their findings suggest cage-free may actually be worse for the hens. Two-times the number of hens died in cage-free systems than did in traditional caged or in cages furnished with perches and dust-bathes. While some were killed by other chickens in the barn, most cage-free chickens died from disease.


    Physician Henry I. Miller, a fellow in Scientific Philosophy and Public Policy at Stanford and a founding director of the FDA’s Office of Biotechnology, calls today's infatuation with sustainable food little more than "Affluent Narcissism."

    As Farmer Goes to Market has cautioned before: Blindly following the sustainable-food line will take grocers onto thin ice when it comes to health claims. The science doesn't support those claims. The even worse news: The science has also called into question sustainability's claims about environmental protection, as well.

    For example, University of Oregon's Julius McGee tested the relationship between the recent growth in organic agriculture and greenhouse gas emission that could be traced specifically to agriculture. His study, in the June 2015 issue of the journalAgriculture and Human Values, is one of the first large-scale empirical analyses of certified organic farming and agricultural greenhouse gas emissions. In it, McGee offers the surprising and contrarian conclusion that not only has organic farming not helped reduce greenhouse gases and global warming, it has in fact increased climate change.

    Numerous studies like McGee's demonstrate any promise for food sustainability lies not in reducing the use of scientific farming technology, but in increasing its use to grow more crops on less water, land and fertilizer.

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  • Competitive Commodity Information: Are we setting up for a beef price crash?

    Where are beef prices heading?

    Just five years ago, the American beef cow herd was at its lowest size in half a century. Battered by withering years-long drought, ranchers had sold cattle off in order to weather the lack of feed and grazing, resulting in a herd size at 1950 levels.

    In testament to the old adage about coming down and going up, today USDA reports cattle farmers are on a steam-up that's nearly unprecedented in pace. The total expansion that's taken place since 2014 is the largest breeding-herd size increase the country's experienced since 1970. The number of cattle and calves USDA counted on Jan. 1 is 2 percent higher than a year ago, and the number of breeding cows, those available to produce more calves, is 3.5 percent higher. Total beef-cow numbers are now at their largest point since 2010, and the number for the Central Plains region which includes Nebraska are up 22 percent vs. 2016.

    Naturally, that surplus of female cattle ready to have calves portends a higher supply. USDA estimates last year's total calf crop will be up 3 percent over the year and up 4.5 percent over the year before that. And because those beef cows take two years to produce an offspring that salable as a beef animal, that increase in breeding animals is calling for expectations for incease in beef supply well into 2018 and even 2019.

    Does all the promised supply increase mean we are looking at a coming beef price crash? Live cattle prices continue to be pushed downward by higher inventories and resulting larger meat supplies. Beef has followed all livestock, poultry and milk prices that have retreated in response to larger supplies. Since prices peaked in 2014, U.S. beef, pork and chicken production have all increased quicker than the number of consumers to buy it. Combined with the effects of a strong dollar on export sales, the result has been a sharp reduction in prices. Projected prices for 2017 are 28 percent below the 2014 level for fed cattle. However, projections by University of Missouri expect the price decline to be stable, albeit falling, and not turn into a wholesale crash. Retail prices, in particular, should stabilize. Retail meat prices have been declining, Missouri reports, though not as rapidly as wholesale and farm meat and animal prices. Retail prices tend to exhibit less volatility than other segments of the marketing chain. When meat supplies are large, farmers tend to take a smaller percentage of consumer dollars spent for meat.

    USDA's latest projections call for wholesale beef cutout values were already being driven upward toward the end of the first quarter by the annually anticipated tendency for both Choice and Select beef cutouts to gain momentum heading into the spring grilling season. At this time, the market transitions from lower-valued end cuts to more expensive middle-meat cuts. Select cutout values were gaining as a result during March; however, wholesale boxed beef cutout values began showing signs of weakness in late-March.

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  • Meet your Farmers: Nebraska hops growers creating a new market

    Hops growers in Nebraska are proving they're an important part of the local craft beer market. Consumers say they like locally-made beers that use hops grown nearby and growers want hops to be a viable crop in the Midwest.

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  • On the Lighter Side: Eight reasons Mom's the best

    This classic compilation from America's Funniest Videos celebrates moms -- the support they give, their fearless leadership, and even when they hit us in the face with a cake.



Supported by the Nebraska Corn Board

The Nebraska Corn Board, on behalf of 23,000 corn farmers in Nebraska, invests in market development, research, promotion and education of corn and value-added products. The board aims to work closely with the farmer-to-consumer food chain, to educate everyone about the role corn has in our everyday healthy lives. The Nebraska Corn Board is proud to sponsor the Farmer Goes to Market program to help bring its mission of expanding demand and value of Nebraska corn to the consumer, through the strongest touch point in that chain: the Nebraska retail grocer.

Supported by the Nebraska Farm Bureau

The farm and ranch families represented by Nebraska Farm Bureau are proud sponsors of the Farmer Goes to Market program. We take great pride in supporting Nebraska's agricultural foundation. A key part of that effort is to make sure we produce safe and affordable food. This newsletter is an important part of our effort to connect the two most important parts of the food chain -- the farmer and the grocer -- with the goal of increasing consumer awareness and information about how their food is raised in Nebraska.

In patnership with the Nebraska Grocery Industry Association

The Nebraska Grocery Industry Association was formed in 1903 by a group of Omaha grocery store owners, wholesalers and vendors to allow them to promote independent food merchants and members of the food industry, and to promote education and cooperation among its membership. NGIA continues to represent grocery store owners and operators, along with wholesalers and vendors located throughout Nebraska, by promoting their success through proactive government relations, innovative solutions and quality services. NGIA offers efficient and economical programs. NGIA also lobbies on both a state and national level, ensuring that the voice of the food industry in Nebraska is heard by our representatives.

Translating Food Technology: Why Would Pig Farmers Insist on Using 'Gestation Crates?'

Why do pig farmers use gestation crates?The last 45 days have seen a line of announcements by food retailers and quick-service restaurant chains that they would soon begin to deman their pork suppliers phase out the use of "gestation crates," individual stalls in which pregnant and newly delivered sows are housed. Spurred by criticism from animal rights groups that the practice is cruel, Smithfield Foods, the country's largest pork farm, first announced in 2007 it would gradually abandon the practice over a 10-year period. Animal-rights groups have lobbied heavily against the practice, often successfully. Ballot initiatives banning sow stalls have passed in many states, and threat of action has led to voluntary agreements to cease their use in other states and Canada. Although Smithfield had earlier backed off on its promise because it was facing financial hardship, Smithfield President and CEO Larry Pope said the company’s hog operations had converted housing for 30 percent of its sow herd and was now back on track to meet the 2017 goal.

Since March, Wendy's, Burger King, Safeway, Sonic, Denny's, McDonalds, Cracker Barrel and Kroger have all released statements in conjunction with the Washington-based animal-rights group Humane Society of the United States announcing they plan to pressure pork suppliers to abandon the practice.

“Kroger believes that a gestation crate-free environment is more humane and that the pork industry should work toward gestation crate-free housing,” said that company in a press release co-authored in early June with HSUS.

“Kroger’s has taken a very important step for animal welfare in declaring that the pork industry must find an exit strategy for its use of gestation crates,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of  HSUS.

Faced with the continual barrage of negative media fanned by HSUS and other animal-rights advocates, grocers and their customers may rightly ask, if so many people believe the practice of crating pigs is inhumane, why do most farmers still use them?

1. It makes indoor housing practical. First, many critics are correct when they say sow stalls are a result of the indoor housing pig farmers evolved toward in the 1970s and 1980s. However, their criticism doesn’t necessarily mean indoor housing is a bad thing—most farmers moved their pigs indoors because they believed it benefited the animals, as well as the caretakers. Indoor housing made sense because it protected both animals and farmers from weather, predators, parasites, and also because it made animal performance both better and more predictable (Pigs left outdoors typically use about a quarter of the feed they eat just to keep warm in winter, for example.)

Once farmers moved pregnant sows indoors, though, they found the traditional group housing for pregnant sows that sufficed in mud barnyards didn’t work well indoors. So they turned to individual housing as the practical solution.

2. It protects individuals from the animal's natural aggression. Why didn't that group housing work for sows housed indoors? Like people who push and crowd to get on a bus where only a few seats are empty, yet will be relaxed and courteous when they know seats are available, sows will fight, wound, and even kill one another when they think their access to feed is at risk. When farmers move 350- to 550-pound bred sows--which are only normally fed a set amount of feed once daily to control their weight--into indoor group pens, sows begin to anticipate the feed delivery, understand there will only be a set amount to go around, and begin to fight for the lion’s share of it. As a result, weaker sows will be injured, as well as be starved of their allotted feed portion. At the same time, the "boss" sows will eat too much, making them overly fat, which will eventually harm their ability to give birth to and feed a healthy set of baby pigs.

By instead training sows to eat in individual stalls before putting them into groups, farmers are in effect training them that fighting doesn’t earn them any additional feed. Each individual is ensured the correct amount of feed and the ability to eat it in peace and safety.

3. It improves the farmer's ability to manage individual animals. It would be disingenuous not to recognize that individually confining animals does also improve the farmer’s ability to manage them, by making it easier and quicker to give them medications, check their condition, and perform other tasks. However, the additional expense of crating sows (it is more expensive to build individual crates than group-housing pens) likely couldn’t justify those management concerns; the predominant reason is to prevent group fighting. Stalling is a trade-off between full mobility and reassurance of feed.

It works, but is it right?

So the question becomes, is it right or wrong to force these trade-offs on an animal? The late Dr. Stan Curtis, who spent his career at University of Illinois studying questions of how animals think and the effect of modern envorinments on them, believed it was. Before his death last year, Curtis was vocally critical of today’s animal behaviorists who conclude that assessing an animal’s well-being based on the animal’s “feelings” was a valid method of assessing the cruelty of practices like gestation crates.

“As long as we can’t yet measure how a pig feels, let alone measure the depth of any such feeling—which everyone agrees we can’t do—we can only speculate, surmise, analogize and anthropomorphize,” Curtis said. In other words, according to Curtis, what humans feel when they see a sow in a crate speaks only to how that human would feel were that human confined in a crate. It says nothing about how the sow feels. Farming decisions can’t be based on those human feelings. “What we cannot do is know, set thresholds, define limits or draw lines. How then is it reasonable to expect producers to manage pigs on that basis?”

To Curtis and those who follow his thinking, the only accurate measure we have of whether the animal is suffering in a crate is what he called the “Performance Axiom:” The best single set of measurable—and manageable—indicators of an animal’s state of being will be how well it produces and reproduces compared to its predicted potential. “When bodily resources become limited because a pig is in a situation requiring extraordinary adaptation, productive processes will be the first to decrease. We can measure that. Reproductive functions will be next. We can measure that. Maintenance processes, which ensure survival, last. These observed reductions in measurable performance traits are the earliest, most sensitive indicators that a pig’s well-being has been disturbed—much more sensitive than behavioral patterns that may indirectly signify some emotional reaction,” he said.

And the research shows that although both group housing and individual crating have advantages and disadvantages, sows peform as well or better in crates than they do in stalls, as long as both systems are managed well. Paul Sundberg, a veterinarian and vice-president of science and research for the National Pork Board, summed it up well in a Washington Post article. “The key to sow welfare isn't whether they are kept in individual crates or group housing,” he said, “but whether the system used is well managed. "[S]cience tells us that [a sow] doesn't even seem to know that she can't turn ... She wants to eat and feel safe, and she can do that very well in individual stalls."

What do you think about the issue? Leave a comment and get some discussion started with your fellow grocers.


-9 #23 Harry 2015-12-05 17:46
The more atheists tell me that pigs have more value than human babies (born or unborn), the more pigs I'm going to eat. Bring on the crates!! We've become a sick German 1939esque culture when we value hotdogs over human babies.
+1 #22 I. M. Carnivore 2015-07-26 02:53
I just ate a pork chop. Yummy. And i grew up on a farm and we put pigs in crates. Of course they can lie down in there. But lose sows often lie on their piglets, crushing or sufficating them. A nasty way to die. The sow is only in there unti the piglets are weaned. We used to raise em in fields. They would be sick and eat other sows babies and fight and injure each other and in a bad winter freeze to death once in a while. So we felt like we were treating them much better when we got em inside. We liked our pigs and treated em well. But one thing we couldnt abide was to watch someone cut a head of lettuce of at the neck, chop it up and eat it raw. Now that is cruel!
+8 #21 Max 2015-04-01 23:08
No, dismissing animal feelings because we "do not know" is unjust. But just for the record, surmounting evidence illustrates that animals have feelings. Our instincts allow us to feel sorry for animals when we see that pain is inflicted upon them. Precautions must be made if we are unsure.

Aggression can be easily managed in small group housing. Isolation is cruel. Extreme confinement is cruel. You cannot justify forcing an animal into a space in which he/she is unable to turn around or walk forward or backward.

That is agony for any animal that is even slightly sentient. And pigs are very intelligent.

"Farming decisions can’t be based on those human feelings. “What we cannot do is know... or draw lines. How then is it reasonable to expect producers to manage pigs on that basis?” It is quite reasonable to expect producers to manage pigs as beings with feelings.
-5 #20 Justin 2015-03-10 05:21
>>The fact that the sows bite the crates shows they are in deep distress

You are correct. The fact that they are biting the crates does show distress. However, it is not mental distress, it is dietary distress. Biting metal bars is a common habit among pigs who are deficient in key nutrients. In their mind, they think they can make up for that deficiency by getting minerals, such as iron which they can taste, out of the metal. Any knowledgeable farmer knows that that habit is a sign of a nutritional deficiency. So by properly managing the diet of the sows, the action of biting the crates can be eliminated.
-5 #19 Larry Elias 2015-01-23 16:37
Thanks for your insightful and educational articles. Farmers and producers who make a career out of working with animals have a much better understanding of the animals than those who think of animals as "morally significant individuals with rights."
-6 #18 Jessica Howe 2015-01-21 00:00
The fact that the sows bite the crates shows they are in deep distress
-1 #17 Nancy Poznak 2015-01-13 18:10
The problem starts with making an animal a commodity; it's worth is reduced to its' financial worth. The entire system of animal agriculture is based upon making animals into commodities. The moment and animal becomes a commodity it loses its freedom and is ultimately put into harm's way. Methods of raising pigs which allow them some freedom of movement do exist, and can be cost-effective. However, atrocities are still committed against pigs (an all commercial animals): castration, tail docking, ear punctures - all with no pain relief. Piglets not performing well are brutally killed. How do you get a pig out of the gestation crate when sending to slaughter? Do you tickle her belly? Do you gently find ways to hoist her up because she cannot walk after being imprisoned for months, or years? For those who consider it "normal and acceptable' to kill animals for food, would YOU be able to slit the animal's throat, watch the blood and life leave their body, look into its eyes and still feel this process 'normal and acceptable'?
+1 #16 Jean 2015-01-08 18:09
my parents in law fed pigs in their village many years ago. It's not a big room, but definitely they can turn and walk for a few steps. Look at the environment now, to make more money, what did people do to pig, chickens,cows. A lot of people talked about food safety, but the root of all the the problem is human's moral standard dropped so quickly in this few decades, it's not only the problems of the farmer. That is the issue of the whole world I believe. eve rybody need to improve yourself from the inner, that the way to change the world.
+5 #15 M. Graham 2014-12-25 13:28
Gestation crates are unbelievably inhumane. Imagine yourself living in a crate so small that you cannot even turn around, and being continually impregnated. Pigs are incredibly smart and sensitive animals. These are LIVING BEINGS we are talking about here. This is about nothing but profit. Period. Factory "farm" pig "farmers" can spin all the narratives they want to try to excuse this abomination against creation, but the bottom line is that this treatment of God's creatures is nothing but evil. And for those of you who support this abomination against innocent creatures, and believe in God, you're really kidding yourselves if you think you are not going to pay for this. If Americans had even the smallest bit of a conscience, they would simply boycott the entire industry. But we are a nation of people so bereft of any moral compass, and so sold to the god of profit, that we will lie ourselves into the inferno rather than face the truth of our own complicity in this inconceivable violence against living beings, whose cries in the vacuum of our collective deafness go unheard.
+5 #14 Nancy S Poznak 2014-12-03 03:04
The intelligence of pigs is well-documented by scientists who study them. They are now known to be among the top four most intelligent nonhuman species. Read this article: http://modernfarmer.com/2014/03/pigheaded-smart-swine/ - not that you need to as you are most likely aware of how smart they are. I have seen many pictures and videos of sows in gestation crates. They obviously suffer. One does not have to be a veterinarian or farmer to see this. Only an idiot would deny the fact they suffer. The reason sows' aggression becomes a problem is because they have been placed into a completely unnatural environment. Pig farming must change and become far more kind to the pigs if it wants to stay in business.

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