Food Policy

Market Forces Lead to Better Treatment for Farm Animals

On the farm, making room for humanely-raised pigs.

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DEKALB, Illinois—The placid cornfields of the upper Midwest have the look of a place where nothing important ever changes. But here, at a large pig farm five miles south of town, the beginnings of a small revolution are unmistakable.

My host today is Bob Johnson, a sturdy 6-footer who gives the impression he would not be rushed if he were running with the bulls in Pamplona. As president of Johnson-Pate Pork Inc., which he co-owns with two sisters and a brother-in-law, he has taken a big role in changing the way hogs are handled.

In recent years, one major food corporation after another, from McDonald's to Safeway, has announced plans to stop buying pork from suppliers that confine pregnant sows in gestation stalls—individual enclosures so tiny the pig can't turn around. Target has set a deadline of 2022, voicing an increasingly common sentiment: "We're committed to the humane treatment of animals, and believe they should be raised in clean, safe environments free from cruelty, abuse or neglect."

Johnson, who has lived on this farm since he was a teenager, saw a business opportunity in getting rid of the cramped crates, as well as eliminating the routine use of antibiotics. So in 2010, his company switched—a big undertaking for a farm that sells 20,000 pigs per year.

Traditionalists say that gestation stalls are indispensable because when pigs are housed in groups, they fight—with bigger and fiercer animals injuring smaller ones and getting more than their share of the feed.

But that's not what is on display in the gestation building, a structure about 60 feet wide and 250 feet long occupied by some 625 pregnant sows. They are walking around and lounging quietly in large group pens. Some cool off under sprinklers that go off intermittently, as a few take their turn to eat. When the weather is good, they can go into an outdoor enclosure.

Johnson says when the pigs are moved into the pens after being inseminated, there is "some fighting, as they establish their social order." Before long, each pig knows when it's her turn to eat and, equally important, when it's someone else's.

Each pig has a radio transmitter attached to her ear, which carries a ticket for one free daily meal at the electronic sow feeder—a narrow chute that dispenses an enriched mixture of corn and soy meal. Once the pigs have eaten, they understand they won't get fed again till the next day. Well, most do: As we're watching, one sow decides it's worth trying to get seconds. No luck.

Peggy Pate, Johnson's sister, has two animal science degrees from the University of Illinois and takes a hands-on role with the pigs, checking to see that they're healthy and well fed. "I'm in the pens at least twice a day," she says.

A slim woman wearing a T-shirt commemorating the 1994 Cornfest 10K, she's dwarfed by the hogs, which weigh in around 450 pounds. But she says the animals are calmer than they were in gestation stalls. Back then, she says, "I always wore earplugs to block the noise."

It's helpful to Pate when the radio transmitter indicates a pig hasn't eaten, which is sometimes a sign of illness and sometimes a sign that an ear tag has fallen off. She uses a computer to adjust the feed for specific hogs that she sees losing weight or gaining too much.

Does raising pigs more humanely cost more? Johnson reports that expenses are a little higher with the new methods, but his customers, which include Whole Foods and Fork in the Road Foods, are willing to pay a premium for his pork.

The effect is small compared to changes in the cost of feed, which adds up to 70 percent of his expenses and has doubled over the past decade. The returns are enough to make it worthwhile. "We'd do it over again," he says.

Others may want to learn from his example. Nine states have passed measures to outlaw gestation stalls. In conservative, Republican Arizona, 61 percent of voters voted for the ban.

A lot of Americans are not entirely comfortable with how farm animals are treated to maximize output and minimize costs in food production, and they are hopeful there is a better way. As it happens, there is. At the Johnson-Pate farm, there is something new in the air, and it's not the smell of pigs.

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62 responses to “Market Forces Lead to Better Treatment for Farm Animals

  1. Don’t blame me; I voted for Snowball.

    1. Four Legs Good.
      Two Legs Bad.

    2. my classmate’s step-mother makes $74/hr on the laptop. She has been fired for seven months but last month her pay was $18454 just working on the laptop for a few hours. Read more on this web site …………..buzz90.com

  2. Target has set a deadline of 2022

    Or they could just quit buying such pork now.

    A decade in the future is a goal, not a deadline.

    1. Looks like market forces are causing a severe delay in better treatment for some farm animals.

    2. The perfect is ever the enemy of the good.

      1. Tonio I agree with your statement in general, but in this case not buying pork is a pretty easy thing for people to do and I have to agree with prolefeed.

        1. Pretty easy if you need to buy 3 lbs. of pork for a barbecue this weekend. Maybe not so simple if you need 30 tons per week, available from a national just-in-time distribution network and all raised in a manner different than any of your current suppliers are using.

          1. It doesn’t take a decade for a major buyer of a product to find a supplier willing to sell them a product produced in a specified manner, or to get existing suppliers to modify their pig pens in a specified manner. It might take a couple of months.

            It looks like Target is trying to get credit for saying they are for the more expensive business practice, while in fact continuing to use the cheaper approach far into the future. I call bullshit on this — this announcement is a PR move disconnected from any intent to change business practices.

            1. “It looks like Target is trying to get credit for saying they are for the more expensive business practice, while in fact continuing to use the cheaper approach far into the future.”

              exactly.

            2. It may well take years for enough suppliers to switch to avoid driving the price through the roof. Have faith in markets; don’t rush in with personal judgements about what should be or might be when you know so little about the inner details.

    3. Maybe a decade is a little excessive, but people generally will agree to changes at some point in the future, while they will balk at the same changes that take effect immediately. So say the sociologists.

  3. Did Reason get permission from Dunphy to post that picture of him?

  4. “We’re committed to the humane treatment of animals, and believe they should be raised in clean, safe environments free from cruelty, abuse or neglect.”

    And then we kill them and eat them…But we feel better about it. Yum!

  5. Wow, Reason consistently shills for cruelty (I’m looking at you, Linnekin), and then crows about this as a free market victory? This is beyond self-parody.

  6. Sometiomes you jsut have to roll with it dude. Wow.

    http://www.AnonRights.tk

  7. “Market Forces Lead to Better Treatment for Farm Animals”

    Are you fucking serious? What forces came up with these gestation crates in the first place? The market has consistently made things worse for animals. Imagine the reaction here if the government took a private citizens shit, lets call this eminent domain, and then later gave it back and someone wrote an article talking about how the government was improving the life of that person by giving them nice things.

    The pain and suffering inflicted by modern factory farming is probably the single greatest externality in the history of the market. If it had to be paid by either the producer or consumer no one would produce or buy it. It is only affordable because it externalizes the majority of the cost to a nonconsenting third party.
    “I always wore earplugs to block the noise.”
    See? This bitch put these creatures in situations where they would scream and yell and she couldn’t even handle the mild discomfort of listening to it.

    1. Market forces are producing PR bullshit saying the companies are going to maybe change their practices far into the future, while continuing to treat actual pigs badly while they are alive, and then killing them.

      Market forces are reflecting that most people just want cheap tasty meat, and are willing to turn a blind eye to how that meat winds up on grocery shelves if the price and quality are right.

  8. “announced plans to stop buying pork from suppliers that confine pregnant sows in gestation stalls ”

    Oh whoopty fucking do, they have plans to someday maybe not support this atrocity. Break out the champagne.

    “In conservative, Republican Arizona, 61 percent of voters voted for the ban.”

    It is always heartening to hear that when actually made aware of a situation that the majority chooses compassion over cruelty. Also that this is a bipartisan issue is good to hear, it shows that it is mainly the industries ability to keep its practices hidden that perpetuates these evils.

    1. It’s true that market forces are not behind these moves. But there is something that is making us more sensitive and aware of the suffering of animals. What exactly? I’m not sure but there does seem to come a time when practices that were once normal come into question. It’s certainly not market forces which force issues into a procrustean bed of supply and demand. There is something more going on here, a widening of our circle of compassion that is almost spiritual in nature.

      1. ” widening of our circle of compassion ”

        Sounds like something singer would say.

        Do you think it might have anything to do with increasing levels of wellbeing? maybe an opposite of the misery loves company saying?

        1. I’m not sure if this has anything to do with an increased sense of wellbeing. If anything levels of anxiety and uncertainty are on the rise.

          Why the rise in concern for animal welfare? The best I can come up with is the zeitgeist. You know William Wilberforce, the English anti-slavery activist of the early 19th century? He ran a campaign that put a stop to Britain’s role in the slave trade. He happened to catch the public sentiment with the right message at the right time. Wilberforce also campaigned for animal welfare as well, but was not nearly so successfully.

          Wilberforce’s times also saw the rise of feminism, nationalism and the Romantic movement. Maybe this was all tied into humanism. Perhaps the rise in interest in animals has something to do with the fall of humanism.

          1. I’ll have to look him up sounds like an interesting character. You’re right about wellbeing, but our lives are technically easier in most regards maybe this gives us more time to think about others.

  9. Oh whoopty fucking do

    So would you prefer a government solution – which would raise *everyone’s* food bill? Well, I guess there’s always government cheese for anyone who can’t afford bacon once in a while anymore.

    1. “which would raise *everyone’s* food bill”

      Maybe in the same way that illegalizing slavery was a government solution that raised peoples clothing bill. A better way of putting it is that it would reflect its real cost.

      The second misleading thing about your statement is that as meat became more expensive people would switch to alternatives like plants and there food bill wouldn’t rise. Similar to that cpi article a while back where the inflation didn’t accurately measure increase in cost of living because people bought alternatives.

    2. It sort of comes down to whether or not you believe that animals, or maybe just certain types of animals, have some set of rights that should protected by government, the same way the full set of human rights are (supposed to be) protected. It’s not necessarily an anti-libertarian stance to take. But you would have to make a rational and well-reasoned argument in support of animal rights.

      1. “It’s not necessarily an anti-libertarian stance to take.”

        I’m happy to see you acknowledge this, it is pretty regularly dismissed by most here. It makes me think they would have been opposed to abolition as well, probably would have claimed that the state shouldn’t meddle in the private affairs of slave owners since blacks don’t have natural rights or some such reasoning.

        1. I think you are jumping to an extreme with that statement. The question of animal rights is not as clear cut as human rights. It is something I have been thinking of a lot recently, after many years of dismissing the question altogether because “they are just animals”, and I’m far more sympathetic to the idea that animals do have some rights. But I still struggle with defining what those are.

          1. ” clear cut as human rights.”

            sure but they got around that by saying that blacks weren’t people or only a certain percent of a person, so I think the analogy holds. You would, as you said, have to make a rational and well-reasoned argument that blacks should be counted as people or have some claim to natural rights.

            “It is something I have been thinking of a lot recently, after many years of dismissing the question altogether because “they are just animals”, and I’m far more sympathetic to the idea that animals do have some rights. But I still struggle with defining what those are.”

            I can sympathize with this as I kinda did the same thing for awhile. I think at least we could not cause them immense suffering that occurs in modern farming even if it means we have to eat meat a little less often.(I don’t really eat it at all anymore but I could probably live with other people doing it if the animals had comfortable lives and a quick death).
            A large amount of animal testing is unnecessary, even if we continue to do it for the life saving stuff most is just repetitive and/or bullshit psychology experiments whose only purpose is to get some psychopathic student a PhD, also most of that is funded by the government so even libertarians should be against it anyway.

            1. The difference is that to argue that any non-white is not human, or not fully human, you have to invoke some psuedo-scientific BS and outright falsehoods. That animals are not human is objectively true.

              The relevant questions for me are, do animals have a right to life? And if not, do they at least have a right to be treated humanely, and to not be made to suffer? Like I said, I don’t have answers that I am satisfied with yet.

              1. “do animals have a right to life? ”

                I don’t think they do because unlike humans they primarily live in the moment and don’t have fears and anxieties about what lies down the road. If we were to not respect humans rights to live then we would live in a society of fear. Animals don’t have this curse. I may be wrong about this and my philosophy is still evolving so don’t quote me on this one.

                “And if not, do they at least have a right to be treated humanely, and to not be made to suffer?”

                Personally I think anything that can suffer should not be made to suffer if possible. I doubt we could ever prove this to be some objective morality but we can’t really do that with most things anyway. Honestly I wish I could but I don’t know how I could convince someone using only logic that it is bad, it is pretty much self evidently true for me which is unsatisfactory for those who require concrete evidence.

                1. It seems to me that the biggest problem is our inability to communicate with (most) animals. Without that, how do you differentiate between what is truly going on in their mind, and what you are just projecting and anthropomorphizing? The work that has been done on chimp communication is an interesting case where you may be able to break down some barriers to communication, but that is controversial.

                  But here is another way to look at this: if it is wrong to cause another creature to suffer, then is the orca that tortures a young seal or the chimpanzee that hunts down and murders a chimp from another troop evil? Should we kill those animals to protect their victims? If not, then why should we force people to treat animals in a specific way?

                  1. “It seems to me that the biggest problem is our inability to communicate with (most) animals.”

                    This would be a good thing, one thing to remember is that they have all the same circuits that cause us pain so I think it is more of a leap that they wouldn’t have the same feelings of agony as we do.

                    “Should we kill those animals to protect their victims? ”

                    I’m glad you brought this up although I’m definitely an outlier in my views on this. If we have the ability to either reengineer or destroy the obligate carnivore species without destroying the ability of the planet to sustain life then I think we ought to do it. Pain is pain and whether it is natural or artificial i’m against it. I would be a hypocrite to say that a factory farm is evil but a lion ripping a screaming zebras guts out is cool.

                    1. Interesting take. I feel similarly regarding the hypocrisy but it pushes me towards the opposite conclusion, because I am not ready to go around shooting lions just for being lions. That is a step too far.

                      The better counter argument in my view is that the lion doesn’t have the ability for morals. People do, which sort of holds us to a higher standard. So then I come back to my other original questions.

                    2. “shooting lions just for being lions.”

                      we could put them on a reserve and feed them meat that was killed far quicker than what the lion could achieve, as a compromise.

                    3. Hahahahahaaahaahaahhaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhh

                    4. “The better counter argument in my view is that the lion doesn’t have the ability for morals.”

                      sure as far as intentions go I wouldn’t call a lion evil like a human could be, I don’t think they know what they are doing. But this would be little consolation for the gazelle. The lions actions are evil even if the lion itself isn’t and so I think some intervention is justified.

        2. Basically you are saying that the fine points of one’s libertarian philosophy matter. If you feel blacks aren’t human, you can support slavery. If you feel fetuses up to a certain age aren’t human, you can support aborting them. If you feel animals are different enough from humans to not have rights, you can support current farming practices.

          If you feel that you shouldn’t ever aggress against any living thing under any circumstances, you can starve to death because that definition includes plants.

        3. Pigs aren’t people. They have no rights.

          Black people ARE people, and, as such, have rights.

          But, perhaps, racists like you who equate black people with pigs can’t see that.

          Four legs good
          Two legs BETTER

          1. “Black people ARE people, and, as such, have rights.”

            You say that now because it is culturally appropriate, if you were a southerner in 1836 you would be saying blacks aren’t people they have no rights. They exact same attitude leads to the mistreatment of pigs, you are the racist not me.

            1. It is not ‘culturally’ appropriate you buffoon–it is a self evident fact. That some created reasons why they should be permitted to treat humans as farm animals does not change that fact.

              And you say ‘the mistreatment of pigs’ I will note that the ‘torture devices’ you question exist to keep the pregnant sows from hurting each other. Without them, what happens?

              Johnson says when the pigs are moved into the pens after being inseminated, there is “some fighting, as they establish their social order.” Before long, each pig knows when it’s her turn to eat and, equally important, when it’s someone else’s.

              Oh, look –they fight. And they struggle for food. The ‘humane’ way is to have them hurt themselves and continually struggle for dominance because the ‘inhumane’ way causes some annoying oinking.

              Hmmm…oinking or fighting?

            2. quite a few northerners felt the same way

      2. ‘It sort of comes down to whether or not you believe that animals, or maybe just certain types of animals, have some set of rights that should protected by government’

        I don’t think it comes down to a narrow, legalistic concept of rights. For me, I-m satisfied with taking a moral stand against causing unnecessary suffering and following it through.

        1. I clicked on your name for some reason and I liked the latest post, it’s a good argument for the guaranteed minimum income. I don’t know if that was your intent or not.

          1. Yes, I think that some kind of guaranteed minimum income will start to gain support, seeing as we are faced with chronic unemployment.

            I would have thought this was clearly coming from the left, and indeed it’s one of the only concrete proposals I came across in Toni Negri’s [an Italian Marxist academic] book. Seems though he’s got some right leaning company though. Doesn’t F. Hayek also write approvingly of the same programme?

            1. Yea I think hayek does although some right-libertarians say he only said it would be the least bad version of redistribution. I think it would be a good way to prevent private serfdom which in my mind is little better than state serfdom, but i’m much more liberal than alot of the regulars here. I think they either claim that private serfdom doesn’t exist or that it is morally justified, I disagree with both claims but eh what can you do.

        2. I don’t really look at rights through a legalistic lens. Rights exist regardless of what the law has to say about it.

  10. Mmmm, now I’m hungry for some crate-raised veal.None of that tough, red pen-raised veal will do. Only pale, delicious crate-raised.

    1. I’m curious do you think they don’t feel pain or fear, or is it just irrelevant that they do?

      1. Do you think that plants don’t feel pain or fear, or is it just irrelevant that they do? The fact that you are alive to type that means you favor killing living beings.

        1. “Do you think that plants don’t feel pain or fear, or is it just irrelevant that they do? ”

          I don’t think they do but if we find out they do then I would be in favor of humane harvesting. So yes it is very relevant. But there seems to be little reason for plants to feel pain evolutionarily they can’t struggle or run away from pain stimuli. They do release chemicals and stuff but many chemical reactions happen in our bodies that we are unconscious of, the only ones that we seem to be aware of are the ones that have to do with the nervous system which plants don’t have. Ultimately I think it is a valid and important question although in most cases it is just assholes trying to justify their evil preferences.

          ” The fact that you are alive to type that means you favor killing living beings.”

          I have less a problem with killing as I do pain and suffering, I don’t even think i’ve mentioned killing, except to say it should be quick.

          1. What is your baggage with ‘pain’ all about?

      2. It is irrelevent, of course.

        We all eat other living things to maintain our own lives. Maintaining OUR lives is what’s important.

        Providing the best meat with the least inconvenience for humans is the goal.

        The animals that still prey on humans don’t care about ‘humane’ deaths, they’ll enjoy your soft tissues while you’re still screaming.

        1. ” Maintaining OUR lives is what’s important.”

          so could I eat you then? It’s my life that is important not yours?

          “Providing the best meat with the least inconvenience for humans is the goal.”

          factually yes that is the current goal, but it is evil. Just like not to long ago providing cotton with the least inconvenience for white people was the goal. This lead to evil consequences so we changed it.

          “The animals that still prey on humans don’t care about ‘humane’ deaths, they’ll enjoy your soft tissues while you’re still screaming.”

          apparently you are one of those animals who don’t care once again justifying me in eating you. Nice job.

          1. Your life is the most important thing to you. Thus I have no problem with your attempting to consume me. But most people find it maddening to get to me, so I suspect your craving might go unsatisfied. Plus, I am somewhat gristley. Not very appetizing at all.

            Why not just eat one of those black people you seem bound and determined to equate with pigs? It’s clear that getting everyone to accept your premise that black people are the same as pigs has some ulterior motive. Cover for your budding cannibalism? Dahmer liked a nice piece of minority as well.

        2. Your fallacies have no power here azathoth!

          actually your name made me think of wow not lotr, but I wanted to say that anyway.

          1. No, you can’t eat Azathoth and remain an ethical libertarian. He is, more likely than not, a person.

            Libertarianism is a political philosophy that examines relationships between human beings. It says nothing regarding a human being’s relationship to any other non-human (non-person, to be more accurate). The topic of animal rights, like religion, is beyond the scope of narrow libertarian philosophy.

  11. The pigs still wish they could vote. Or at least get bacon banned.

  12. upto I saw the check saying $7450, I didnt believe that…my… brothers friend was like realey bringing in money parttime online.. there sisters roommate has been doing this for under 23 months and resantly repayed the mortgage on their place and bourt themselves a BMW. this is where I went http://www.jazz77.com

  13. “If we have the ability to either reengineer or destroy the obligate carnivore species without destroying the ability of the planet to sustain life then I think we ought to do it.”

    Wow, is this hypochondriac idiot insane. Here’s my morality: People come first. The fuck with swine, dolphins, idealized ‘nature’, and so forth. Every slaughtered head of livestock means that somebody’s life was improved at least by making that person’s meal a little bit tastier.

    1. By “we” I suppose that means the state.

      The possibility of utopia where “suffering” is minimized through right-thinking action and proper engineering has a very dangerous prog flavor to it.

      I’m willing to hear arguments that humans should accept a certain standard of behavior for animals directly under their control and influence based on ethics. But this idea of managing nature and butting into natural ecosystems is simply ridiculous. It’s Peter Singer nutty and is a premise for massive state intervention and centralization of power. Humans can barely police themselves properly (see the current crop of criminals running things), much less everything else on the planet.

  14. turdy 6-footer who gives the impression he would not be rushed

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