July 3, 2020 | News | No Comments
The discount grocery chain Aldi is joining a growing list of food businesses condemning the pork-production practice of confining sows in gestation crates for the duration of their nearly four-month pregnancies.
The gestation crates, which are barely large enough to house the pig and too small for her to turn around, have been blasted by animal-welfare advocates as cruel, inhumane and torturous. More than 60 major food corporations have changed their animal-welfare policies to require their suppliers improve living conditions for pregnant sows.
“Compare it to how it would impact a dog that had a crate that was so tight it was the same length and width of the animal, the dog couldn’t turn around and the dog spent its entire life there,” said Jess Chipkin, the president and founder of Crate Free Illinois, an animal rights group that met with Aldi earlier this year to talk about changing its policies.
“In our world that would be considered animal cruelty; in the world of Big Ag, that’s considered business as usual,” Chipkin said. “It’s asking an animal to live in an environment that is totally unnatural.”
Chipkin and other animal-welfare advocates argue pigs are highly intelligent beings that suffer in the small crates and deserve better treatment. Their innate behavior is to forage and root around, but “there’s nothing innate about being stuck in gestation crates,” she said.
Illinois is the fourth-largest pork producing state in the nation, and part of Chipkin’s organization’s mission is to end a practice firmly entrenched in factory-style agriculture and, she said, difficult to remove entirely because of economic pressures.
A U.S. Department of Agriculture report said sows use aggression to establish dominance when they’re housed in groups, and that can lead to serious injuries to less-dominant sows and their unborn piglets. The agency acknowledges pregnant sows are severely constrained in gestation crates, can’t turn around and only have limited side-to-side and back-and-forth movement.
“Think of yourself being trapped in an airline seat your entire life,” Chipkin said.
Crate Free Illinois began its campaign in June and had one meeting in September with representatives of the German discount grocer at U.S. headquarters in Batavia, Illinois, hoping to persuade them to change how suppliers’ pigs are raised. The group has done the same with Trader Joe’s, which said last year it is phasing out gestation crates.
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Aldi’s position on the issue isn’t all Chipkin hoped for — the chain says it expects its suppliers to pursue the elimination of gestation crates in favor of group housing, and it doesn’t set a timeline for the implementation of the new standards — but it does represent incremental change, Chipkin said.
“That’s really what this campaign is about,” she said. “We’re well aware that this is an incremental improvement in the life of these sows into group housing, though that’s not the same as being pasture raised.”
Aldi responded to Patch’s request for comment with an emailed statement that said as a leading grocery retailer, it is “committed to the welfare of the animals in our supply chain and we require all of our suppliers to treat their animals humanely and with dignity.”
“After hearing some concerns from Crate Free Illinois, we reached out to them so we could meet in-person. We had a productive conversation and understand their concerns. After fully reviewing our Animal Welfare Policy, we made the decision to strengthen our commitment, which now states that we expect our suppliers to pursue the elimination of crates for pregnant sows in favor of group housing.”
The updated policy is found on Aldi’s website.
California Sets Tough New Standard
The revised policy is a good business move for Aldi, which plans to expand the number of stores from about 1,950 in 36 states now to 2,500 by the end of 2022, putting it on a course to become the nation’s third-largest grocery store chain behind behemoths Walmart and Kroger.
Most of Aldi’s stores are in the eastern half of the United States, but, significantly, Aldi has 72 stores in California, where a state law establishes minimum space requirements for calves raised for veal, breeding pigs and egg-laying hens.
The voter-approved ballot initiative known as Proposition 12 took effect last year and is regarded as the most aggressive animal-welfare law in the country. California’s law is distinctive among a dozen state laws that ban or restrict confinement for at least one animal in that it bans the sale of veal, pork and eggs from animals raised in facilities that don’t meet minimum square-foot requirements.
That means Aldi, or any other food business with a presence in California, would have to develop two separate supply chains if current suppliers are still using swine gestation crates, veal crates and battery cages for egg-laying hens.
“For a chain as large as Aldi to do this is a step forward,” Chipkin said. “We’re happy to see that.”
Growth In Consumer Conscientiousness
Chipkin said consumers are increasingly concerned about how their food is raised. A Change.org petition asking Aldi to go 100 percent gestation crate-free supply chain “gained momentum very quickly.”
“There’s a big growth in conscientious, compassionate consumers,” she said. “It’s increasingly important to consumers.”
Linda Kirchberg, an Arlington Heights, Illinois, resident, said that although she’s an animal lover, she hadn’t given much thought to how meat-producing animals were treated until practices like gestation crates were brought to her attention.
“I found myself in quite a predicament,” Kirchberg said. “Where do I shop? What do I do? It’s hard to break patterns of a whole life. This is so ingrained as normal. But once you know, it’s hard to un-know.”
Kirchberg said Aldi’s new policy makes her more inclined to shop there.
Though Aldi’s new policy is a good start, Chipkin doesn’t think it goes far enough.
“There’s no binding timeline to eliminate gestation crates,” she said. “In our opinion, there’s a difference between letting your suppliers know you expect them to eliminate gestation crates, rather than mandating it.”