The largest pork producer in the country, Smithfield Foods, is now encouraging the contractors who raise its sows to convert their facilities from gestation crates to group housing.
Smithfield said the contractors that complete the conversion by 2022 will have their contracts with the pork giant extended.
Animal welfare groups like the Humane Society of the United States said they applaud the move. As the pork industry moves into 2014, the issue of animal welfare will continue to show up.
President of Adel-based Paragon Economics Dr. Steve Meyer said those concerns are more of a long-term trend and are prompted by what’s happening behind the meat counter, not in front of it.
“The people that pay attention to animal welfare are the producers and the activists on the animal welfare side,” Meyer said.
Consumers are not paying attention to what is behind the scenes, according to Meyer.
“They want products,” he added.
But it is starting to affect how producers get their product out. Meyer said food and service chains are demanding more animal welfare.
“It certainly doesn’t seem to have a negative impact on demand, based on the data we see from last year,” he said. Porcine epidemic diarrhea virus is expected to be a concern in 2014, according to Meyer, but the losses of piglets will keep market hog availability is expected to be at or just under 2013 levels.
The National Pork Board said pork consumption in the U.S. is at a ten-year high and is set to rise, along with the growing demand from the Asian middle class.