Making Difficult Welfare Choices–Housing for Pregnant Sows

We’re getting lots of e-mail, phone calls, and other communications these days asking whether the AVMA is “for” or “against” the use of gestation stalls for housing pregnant sows. What AVMA is really “for” is good welfare. We want housing that: (1) ensures good nutrition and, correspondingly, good body condition; (2) maximizes the health of the pig (i.e., absence of disease and injuries); (3) provides a good environment in terms of things like air quality, temperature and humidity; and (4) promotes good mental health (e.g., supports the expression of normal patterns of behavior and minimizes stress). The housing systems currently available for pregnant sows vary in their ability to meet these needs.

Examples of individual housing include 2 ft by 7 ft gestation stalls (most common by far), individual pens, and turn-around stalls. Individual housing actually does a pretty good job at achieving (1) and (2) on our wish list above, but presents challenges when it comes to (4). When sows are housed individually, it’s possible to easily monitor each sow’s health, and to know how much food and water each is receiving and consuming—all things that contribute to the sow’s good welfare. However, sows housed individually have less opportunity to socialize and, depending on the configuration of the housing system (e.g., stalls, turn-around stalls, individual pens) and what is included in the enclosure (e.g., nothing [barren], straw, other enrichments), the sow’s movement may be restricted and she may not be able to behave in ways that would be considered “normal” in a more natural environment—all potential welfare negatives.

Gestation stalls were developed as a way to make efficient use of space and keep expenses low while preserving good nutrition and health of individual sows. You can achieve many of the same animal welfare benefits by utilizing an individual pen that allows more freedom of movement—but typically at a greater dollar cost. And, just as for any other business, that higher cost is passed on to the consumer.

In comparison to individual housing, housing sows in groups can facilitate (4) on our wish list in that sows are able to socialize and perform more of their normal behaviors (assuming that the group enclosure the sows are housed in has the right design and the right things in it to facilitate those behaviors). This housing approach, however, may present more challenges in achieving (1) and (2). More animals in one place makes it harder for caretakers to monitor their individual health, and competition for food among sows in the group can result in less dominant sows receiving less nutrition. As sows in groups establish their social ranking and dominance within the group, they may fight and injure each other—and sometimes those injuries can be quite severe.

We’ve barely scratched the surface of what we have to consider when we try to decide what housing system is “best.” Management, genetics, how many pigs are in a group, whether groups are ‘static’ (all sows in a pen enter it when the group is formed) or ‘dynamic’ (sows enter and exit the group at different times), and the environmental features of the enclosure (how it’s designed [corners versus round, presence or absence of hiding places], what’s in it) are just some of the things that can impact sow welfare. What we would like to see are efforts to retain the advantages of current systems while working aggressively to resolve their disadvantages. It’s not about supporting the status quo for any type of housing; instead, it’s about always looking to improve the system to provide the best health and welfare for the pigs, as well as safe food for people.

And, while veterinarians and other scientists can evaluate housing systems and try to measure how they affect animal welfare, there are always going to be value judgments involved in choosing what is “best.” Science doesn’t tell us how much “protection from injury” is equal to how much “freedom of movement,” and may or may not be able to tell us which attributes are most important from the perspective of the animal. People fill these knowledge gaps by deciding what’s most important to them and make choices accordingly.

37 thoughts on “Making Difficult Welfare Choices–Housing for Pregnant Sows

  1. I forgot to mention that there is a profession labeled “DCM” they are called human doctors. Again your perception of the equality of humans and animals is not shared by all. Most people I know seperate the two but that does not mean they don’t care about the well being of animals.

  2. Ms. Weeks I will answer your question to the best of my ability and then I hope you will answer mine as to what you do as an occupation? Have you ever witnessed the use of CO2 as a form of euthanization? I will assume not because you would see that it is a humane way to end the life of a animal that is suffering or in the case of the day old male chicks not needed. I realize that I am speaking out of turn here slightly because my area of expertize is not poultry medicine or production. The use of maceration for euthanization is quick but the real hurtle here has nothing to do with the humanity of any form of euthanization from your perspective. It is clear that you have a deep seated distain for anyone that CHOOSES to eat meat. Now I clearly understand your point of view and that you equate the life of an animal equal to a humans. I do not. Now that does not mean that while animals are under my care I will not treat them with compassion and care but never will I in your eyes meet the level that you have decided is right. The mere fact that you would ask the AVMA and it’s members (are you reading this the rest of my fellow DVM’s) if we would condone the killing of HUMAN BABIES as if it is equal to the euthanization of day old chicks is over the top. Your belief system based on the use of animals for food and the resulting production practices that result is understandable to me as your choice but to view the practices of harvesting of animal flesh for human comsumption as if it is equal to the holocaust is beyond belief. The extent of your compassion towards animals is yours and the feelings they create within you are yours. I hope the other veterinarians on this blog realize that the extent at which the anti-animal activist are thinking. Their so called claims of none compassion towards food animals will and has spilled over to the every day practices in most veterinary clinics and household that entraps dogs, cats, fish and birds their entire lives. The eventing of horses, horse racing or any thing that involves the exploitation of animals is on their target list. So Ms, Weeks (obviously not your real name) I have answered your question albeit will not satisfy your radical definition of compassion which would only be accomplished with the complete cessation of the food animal industry along with any pet OWNERSHIP. If you would kindly discribe your occupation I am sure I will be able to form some very judgemental critisisms of your beliefs. Because as you may have learn as a child there was only one man to ever walked this earth that did not sin. Everyone in the course of their lives has issues that others will deem indefensible. Good day.

  3. Rebecca as you know your justification for Pro choice Pro abortion or abortion rights call it what you may as being “ESPECIALLY when that right was taken away from her by the violent desecration of rape or incest” only accounts for less than 1% of the 1.3 or 1.6 REPOERTED abortion each year. The reason that we all look for areas where people we disagree with is to try to get them to see the justification of our agruement just as you are to me. We live our lives developing the levels of our OWN moralities. So on go the agruements and as you and your friends believe you are agruing for the the rights of the animals others believe they are agruing for the rights of the unborn human babies that you simply like to ignore because the woman’s right to choose to kill it. But back to the main point at hand. I assume that you like most of us WORKING Americans do not work for free. Unless your job is as a professional activist but even then I doubt you voluntarily give up your pay to farther the cause. So when I talk about the cost of a specific disease in the industry you apparently think of it all in the context of profit. Again not sure what any of you really do for an occupation but all businesses have what is know as cost of goods sold which in most cases is some number greater than 85 to 90% of any gross revenue if your lucky. So what the cost to the industry have been is that there are no profits not that there are less profit there are none! Now I realize that you are elated that we terrible people that choose to raise animals to feed the world or as you may say “exploit animals for greed and profit” are losing money (which means no profit) and that our ability to contribute to the well being of the economy is then limited. I would suggest this to you if at the core of your convictions you and your friends are appalled by those that eat meat you should not except ANY service or product from anyone that eats meat or animal products in their diet. So if you feel so strongly that it is not enough that you can CHOOSE to not eat meat but you are unwilling to let us CHOOSE (where have we seen that phrase before) to eat meat that you should only except ANYTHING in your life that is untouched by a horrible meateater. That means grow ALL of your own food, build your own vechicle, gather your own water etc. You get my point the american farmer feeds the work force in the America you CHOOSE to live and the vast majority of that work force that provides ALL of the conviences you use in the course of your day eat meat. So if you truely are not hypocritical as you claim me to be I would challenge you to start today. Good Luck. Still waiting for full disclosure so I too can do a Google search!


  4. Mark FitzSimmons – although Janet, Bea and I have made no secret of our desired end result – that is, the cessation of animal abuse and exploitation for human desires and greed – likewise I see that you make no secret of yours, either. If I may quote from an article you wrote discussing a vaccine ( “The disease has cost the swine industry hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars in the last 20 years.” Has COST THE SWINE INDUSTRY. NOT “has taken the lives of untold numbers of sows and piglets.” No, their LIVES are worthless, apparently. What is important is how much money the “producers” have lost. It is this exact attitude of disregard for the lives of sentient beings that is making caring, feeling people who have compassion turn against animal production farming and realize that the best option is to give up eating, wearing and using animal products. And I hope people realize also that the respiratory disease that you are so feverishly seeking a vaccine for most likely would not even occur if the pigs were allowed to live in their natural habitat, with their natural population density, and not having to breathe, day in and day out, the noxious ammonia fumes created by their own waste products. Yup, I am an animal science major as well.

    And I don’t know why every animal exploitation apologist brings up the abortion argument. No one I have EVER heard of, especially any vegan, wants to kill human babies! What we want is a woman’s right to choose what happens to her own body, and ESPECIALLY when that right was taken away from her by the violent desecration of rape or incest. You likely will not understand that, since you have no compunction over taking total control over another being’s right to make its own decisions and live its life free from human interference.

  5. @Mark FitzSimmons DVM
    I respectfully ask, Mark FitzSimmons DVM, as a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, which those three initials attached to your name signify, what is “humane” or “caring” about gassing to death or macerating newly hatched, perfectly healthy, day-old chicks or, as AVMA refer to them, “poultry”?

    AVMA likes to use big fancy words to disguise, deflect or, perhaps, sanitize the truth. They use, “macerating,” for example, to mean “grinding up while still alive” healthy baby animals. From AVMA’s Euthanasia Guidelines: “Maceration, via use of a specially designed mechanical apparatus having rotating blades or projections, causes immediate fragmentation and death of day-old poultry and embryonated eggs.” “Specially designed.” How special. “Fragmentation” is another big word, which simply means “reduce to bloody pulp” the living body of a baby animal, while that baby animal is still conscious. The most egregious misuse of words, however, has to be AVMA’s persistent misuse of the very euphemistic word “euthanize,” and all its derivations, to mean “kill, destroy, dispose, or get rid of” unwanted living beings. I’m certain that an animal undergoing maceration or gassing is NOT experiencing anything close to “good death.”

    Look, I know you eat, wear, and use animals and you will do everything in your power to justify animal use by humans to spare yourself having to confront profound moral questions. And, as you love to point out, so do 97% of humans eat animals and attempt to justify humans’ right to do so. I might challenge that percentage and ask you to prove it, but instead, I’ll ask: What is your point? Is it that humans cannot or should not reflect on their behavior or try to become better people because the majority of people behave in a certain way and the majority is always right? The majority once believed and behaved as if the world were flat.

    I will put to you the same question I put to Dr. Gail Golab: How does AVMA or anyone justify the killing of healthy baby animals? Let me put it this way: Would you be shocked or horrified to learn that the American Medical Association (AMA) approves and even prescribes several methods of killing healthy newborn humans? Then, why should the American public NOT be shocked and horrified to learn that the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) approves and even prescribes several methods of killing healthy newborn animals?

    Last, I will submit to you a 4-minute video and respectfully request that you watch it. It explains why Bea and I and so many others these days are examining profound moral questions, confronting hypocrisy, challenging the status quo of animal use and abuse, making changes in our lives, and urging others to do the same–as if our lives and our very world depend on it:

  6. Bea Elliott. I have been open enough to state my full intentions here first by revealing I am a food animal veterinarian and secondly stating my main areas of practice. It would be nice to know what your occupation is so I would have the same idea as to your intent. It is clear to me and everyone reading that your choice of definitions leans in the direction of equality of humans and animals. I do not hold that same belief but I do believe that we do have the responsibility to provide for the animals in our care. Now I said it again. We provide for the housing, feeding and medical attention these animals require during their life. Albeit that life is solely there for us meat comsuming humans to provide high quality protein in ours and others diets around the world. I still take the comfort of the animals we are taking care of very seriuosly. Also within the definitions of “humane” is the terminology “humane killing” which to you I am sure sounds like an oxymoron but to many of us it is the cycle of life. I have spent many hours volunteering in hospitals after my parents both died of cancer. I was there to help with the pain and suffering these people go through. Having compassion towards someone elses plite does not mean you can always fix the problem and the pain doesn’t stop until their last breath is taken. We all look at the staving people in other countries and feel compassion for their circumstances but we still buy our $5 latte. We hear of and see the homeless but we still lock our doors at night. I realize some people look at how we raise animals for human consumption and think it is not compassionate enough for them. But to make that judgement they best look at the rest of their life in its entirity before they cast the stones. Bea for you and others like you (which is truely your choice) the use of animals for anything likely denotes some lack compassion. Like I said I know not of your path in life if it involves living in a city or in the country, if you have pets or not or what you do to pay the bills but there is not likely anything I say that will convince you that what we do while the animals are here on earth is either compassionate or caring. So you will continue to fight to convince 97% of the people to stop eating meat or ride horses or go to the zoo or to hunt especially with dogs and I will continue to fight to make sure that the animals we raise that are destine to be food are well cared for and not allow them suffer any of the things I witnessed the victims of cancer going through.

  7. @Mark Fitzsimmons DVM – Ah! So you’re saying that a strategy of half truths and hidden agendas is better. I see. Perhaps that’s why I keep hearing words like “care” and “humane” in the context of slaughter. If that’s not a manipulation of terms! It’s terribly deceitful to use words that have specific meanings to describe practices that mean another.

    “We as humans should always be careful to provide these animals with compassionate care.”

    Compassion: a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.

    Care: to be concerned or solicitous; have thought or regard. To protect.

    Humane: characterized by tenderness, compassion, and sympathy for people and animals

    So you see when one IS truly honest – The whole picture changes – Doesn’t it?

  8. At last a few of the people that are in the oppostion of food animals speak their real intentions. I believe you have the full right and obligation to speak what you really believe and don’t mislead people that you would be ok with animals raised in some particular manner for food. The real truth you have in your heart is that we should not be eating meat. eggs or drinking milk. Now as most of you know you make up only a very small percentage of the worlds population (approximately 1% vegan and 3.5% vegetarian) and that most people choose to use meat and other animal products as wholesome sources of nutrition. I would also guess that many of you do not liked caged animals in peoples houses or the fact that horses are riden for the sole pleasure of pleasing people or worse yet are used to round up cattle to make my hamburger. My gosh the insanity of it all! The first rule of any activist organization is not to reveal the ultimate agenda because you will expose to the more moderate members or followers the real message. This normally seperates the extremist from the moderates and dries up the funding. And for those of you that don’t think that there aren’t millions of dollars at stake for organizations like HSUS just look at their spending habits. Less than 1% of a greater than $120 million budget is spent on small animal rescue and shelters. Clearly the last few comments are from the small few that CHOOSE not to consume animal flesh and that is their choice. My choice along with 97% of the other people is to consume animal flesh normally on a daily basis. We as humans should always be careful to provide these animals with compassionate care. This will always be a point of differing opinions but we should all still have the animals care in mind. As another point of interest, I am always surprised how many people that refuse to eat animal flesh are more than willing to abort human babies even into the last term. Oops did I show an opinion I have about right to life.

  9. The issues of small cages or less-small cages remind me of the options of death by gunshot or arsenic. Of course neither is a preference. And that’s how I feel about imprisoning pigs, chickens and all other creatures. But then I think it is cruel and inhumane to manufacture any being for profit. I don’t like the idea of stealing lives and I don’t know that we as a society should condone/encourage it. As the saying goes… Violence is violence – Whether the victim has 2 legs or 4.

    That said, I’m almost inclined to say let the teeny-tiny prisons remain in use! Don’t give those innocent and sentient beings one minuscule second of a decent life! Keep them behind bars – Isolate them with only their frustration, monotony and pain. For you see I believe many are just like me… All it took was one look at that kind of torture to question everything about “food animals” – And then the whole miserable facade of it came tumbling down.

    In the long run, ethically minded people don’t need “science” or “experts” to tell them something with animal ag is drastically amiss. Given enough exposure and enough time and these kinds of blatantly cruel practices will turn ever more folks away from the whole animal-eating ritual.

    I’m no one special – No one with more empathy than another… Yet all it took was one image to turn the works around entirely. Multiply me by thousands and millions… So it might serve us well for a quicker way to end this animal holocaust – Keep the joyless “units” of pigs in extreme confinement so the world will have ample cause to abolish all the cages – Once and for good.

  10. It is important to note that, since the AVMA was established in 1863, it was most likely formed by, and in order to represent, veterinarians in the food production industries. Small animal medicine exploded onto the scene only in the latter half of the 20th century (maybe the latter quarter, even), as humans have become increasingly aware of the sentience of their companion animals, so it’s not surprising that the AVMA finds it difficult to take a stand against the producers who were the original clients of the founding veterinarians. However, as we all become increasingly aware of the sentience of ALL animals, farmed animals included, it behooves us all to move away from the consumption and exploitation of non-human animals, and for the AVMA to take a stand to protect its charges.

    As for outdoor housing being impractical, how about indoor/outdoor housing, where the sows are free to move in and out of shelter as they desire? Ah, yes….the expense. If all pigs were raised this way, the costs would be astronomical. So it DOES come down to economics, doesn’t it? The only answer to that I see is for humans to end their love affair with the exploitation of animals for their fur, flesh, eggs and milk. And, guess what? That is the easiest solution of all. Go vegan – you won’t regret it.

  11. When you have the American Veterinary Medical Association publishing guidelines on numerous methods (each more horrific than the last) of killing (they say “euthanize”) healthy, baby animals, then you begin to see the magnitude of the AVMA’s serious disconnect.

    Read their Euthanasia Guidelines and see for yourself:

    These are the people–veterinarians–most people associate with healing and preventing the pain and suffering of injured, infirm, or aged animals, when the truth is they are in bed with agribusiness and other animal-use industries. They just don’t have the courage or transparency to admit that it is not about the animals at all but of how best humans can use and profit off of them. It is utilitarianism at its worst. It is speciesism at its worst. It shames the very ideals of the profession as supposed animal healers, animal advocates, and animal protectors.

  12. As I read, I am perplexed at the narrow view of what constitutes welfare in the case of sows in gestation stalls. I will lead off by saying that I clearly have a stake in my business, as most of you do, and that your clientele are leading lives that enable them to afford not only life’s necessities, but a few luxuries as well (say dental care for their dog). I have been a food animal veterinarian for 25 years and was raised on a family pig farm where we transitioned from having sows outside, to in pens, and finally into stalls. While the transition was not without its economic consideration, the decision was more so based on the well being of the sows and of the people taking care of them.

    Albeit that swine are intelligent animals, they also can at times be very aggressive and territorial. This aggression can be directed towards the caretakers or other pigs. Like I said (likely contrary to most who have posted here), I have raised and cared for pigs my entire life and would not choose to revert back to the old ways. The fundamental question here is not only in regard to our ability to feed a growing world population, but further, do we (or you) want animal protein on the menu? I, myself, would be both willing and capable of raising animal protein for myself and family, but I refuse to put sows through the pain and suffering that accompanies pen or outside housing for your continued consumption.

    Let us now consider the broader view of the welfare and compassion of these animals under our care. Is it more or less compassionate to have sows frost bite their udders and ears, potentially losing such extremities, in a Minnesota winter due to the uncontrollable weather conditions? Is it more or less compassionate to have sows get sunburn so badly that they abort their litters? Or piglets so bad that they get raw infected skin lesions and must be euthanized? Is it more or less compassionate to have dominant sows in loose housing fight for food, often resulting in the animals biting off one another’s vulvas, while thin sows are pushed to the back every day at feeding time? I understand that it is easy to condemn the use of stalls when you have not witnessed the harm to the animals that the other housing methods entail. I also understand the concern that the public may have in regard to welfare decisions being based on “profitability”, but I can assure you that most pig farmers are not eager to put bacon on your table for nothing. They, too, have families to support and children to put through college—which brings me back to the meat or no meat question.

    While the minority of us that survive in the rural areas have the means to feed ourselves and sustain a healthy, protein rich diet, the rest of the country—the rest of the world, at that—will struggle to feed the population when the grocery stores in New York or Chicago run out of food in a matter of days. My point here is that without the ability to make an income and support our families raising pigs, we farmers do not have the resources or willingness to produce for everyone else out of the kindness of our hearts. Some parties may want to make this into a big farm or corporate farm issue, but I can assure you, as someone that works with pork producers with as few as 50 sows as well as having consulted with the biggest integrators, that the use of gestation stalls is important to the survival of them all.

    We, as the daily caretakers of these animals, do not take our jobs lightly. We understand ALL of the areas where compassion must be weighed and applied, and our decision to restrict a sow’s movement is made in order to protect her from bodily harm, all the while providing individual health care and assuring her complete and consistent daily nutritional (water and feed) support. In return, the animals provide us with nutritious animal protein for our families and families around the world. Just remember—one PERSON’S view of compassion may be one ANIMAL’S worst nightmare.

    I would also add to anyone (especially small animal veterinarians) out there that doesn’t think there is a cost of production component this little story of compassion that likely happens in every small animal clinic in the country at sometime. A dog is brought into the clinic with an abcessed tooth and in need of a dental cleaning to prevent farther issues. The client is quoted a price of $360 for all the procedures. The client is unable to afford the procedure so the dog is sent home as is. So if all of you are casting judgement on a farmers desire to make a reasonable profit on his trade are willing to provide your services for free than judge away but for you that are working every day to make a living becareful of the stones you throw.

  13. This argument is similar to the controversy over caging systems for laying hens. First, you have to start with the premise that it is acceptable to harvest chicken eggs for human consumption. If you do not accept this premise, or similarly the use of pork as a human food source, then there is no acceptable method for housing either species. This is a defensible philosophical position, but is not helpful if the debate is squarely about the best housing system (as opposed to no housing system at all).
    While many (most?) people will reflexively choose free range housing as the best housing scheme for chickens, such a system results in some seriously bad welfare outcomes for the chickens. This is not my personal opinion, but the results of actual scientific, published inquiry. So we have to ask ourselves- are we advocating for what is best for the birds, or rather what we humans perceive as our own construct of a utopian chicken environment?
    So is the AVMA for or against caging laying hens? The question is as misdirected as asking whether you are still beating your wife. The AVMA recognizes that conventional battery caging has some serious welfare problems, as does free range housing. What the egg industry, working constructively with welfare groups actually did was agree to a system which tries to construct the best housing system which combines the best available scientific evidence with acceptable societal demands. The result- enriched housing- is not promoted as perfect by anyone. But it is as good as we currently know how to achieve. And when the egg industry and welfare advocates asked AVMA to support this position, the AVMA did so. The AVMA has been pilloried for taking this position, but I personally think our association did exactly the right thing.
    I hope that pork producers, working constructively with consumers, can devise a system that results in the best we know how to achieve. I hope that the AVMA will play a role in its development. And I hope that the AVMA will continue advancing animal welfare.

  14. Goodnes gracious just read some the most stupid–eneducated comments deploring farrowing crates and ALL said I HAVE HEARD, not I HAVE SEEN. How many of you pig physcologists have seen a depressed sow,one who wont eat because she cant turn around, screams all the time because she cant see her rear-end or nuzzle her piglets. Get off your couch and enjoy the smells of a commercial hog ranch and see for yourself how abused they are because if they are truly abused as you claim, then they SHOULD–BE thin with small scrawny litters fron not eating due to DEPRESSION. EDUCATE your self before showing your stupidity to the world. Or pay $50 for a ham sandwich, but do enjoy the smell—-next you will want to stop them from pooping so you cant smell them, always something but of not your business. Education is a wonderful thing—just do it.

  15. “This is an organization that is supposed to care about animals…”

    No, this is an organization of veterinary professionals of members with diverse views, organized to support and improve the veterinary profession itself. Rather than an animal welfare organization, AVMA is a professional society with members who care about animal welfare and collectively try to make scientifically based judgements about animal welfare practices. Reasonable people may disagree on those judgements. Trade offs inevitably must occur, particularly in food animal practice, of which swine are a part.

  16. It’s interesting to me that “cost-efficiency for farmers” is not one of the four factors you explicitly consider, yet seems to lie at the heart of your analysis supporting gestation crates.

    Why not use individual stalls with much more room? That would satisfy all four of your criteria, even if it increases the cost of meat production.

    Or what about group housing with less pigs and more monitors? Of course, that would cost more too.

    So I gather that you are not concerned so much with animal welfare as you are with balancing welfare against the economic interests of farmers. We can debate how best to balance those interests, but I wish you all would just come out and say that you are worried about industrial farm profits.

  17. “Scientific” discussion about the potential “benefits” of gestation crates to the pigs is inane. Does it take a rocket scientist to determine that cramming a living, breathing, feeling, intelligent animal into a space so small it can’t so much as turn around, with a concrete floor to lie on, for months on end,is cruel, inhumane and torture??? Would any human who thinks these cages are OK volunteer to spend 24 hours in a similar situation? Would anyone who has a dog as a companion think it was OK to lock their dog in a box like that? Common sense and humanity gives us more than enough information to know that these crates are awful and wrong. They are all about cheap meat and the bottom line only. I’m embarrassed to admit I have been an AVMA member for over 30 years only because I need them for my health insurance – they have never represented me or any issues of concern for animals’ welfare. It’s a sad situation that we veterinarians aren’t the first ones to work for the protection and well being of all species of animals.

  18. You do not answer the question. I love the line “balance between number of injuries vs. freedom of movement” which is another way of saying that it is the all mighty buck you all care about and not the humane treatment of animals.

  19. Historically, AVMA did not take a stand against foi gras, and actually state that clubbing seals over the head is a humane way to kill. This is an organization that is supposed to care about animals, but I do not believe that they have regard for the wellbeing of any animals. As a veterinarian it is difficult to look to this organization for any support in the veterinary community. Gestation crates are barbaric- pigs are sentient beings that suffer greatly in gestation crates, and there is no way to have gestation crates that promote ‘good mental health’. Its ridiculous. All factory farming practices lead to suffering of animals and little is done about it. Taking an animal who lives a life of fear and misery, and giving them a few extra inches is not making a stand. Animal compassion is not on AVMA’s corporate agenda.

  20. Thank you AVMA for keeping the animals’ interests at heart during a crisis period of race-to-the-bottom economics. Thanks to your firm “Gee, I don’t know” stance, CAFO’s can continue to raise pigs at next to nothing costs with your blessing. Something is seriously amiss when consumer market trends make faster, clearer decisions than you on this issue.

  21. @Dr. Gail Golab
    Thank you for your comments. I like Dr. Fraser’s explanation of animal welfare science because it does encompass the FAWC/Brambell Commission’s Five Freedoms and it is particularly egalitarian in that it gives equal weight to all the measures identified by animal welfare scientists as important; it does not emphasize one over the other. He points out in his recent book (Understanding Animal Welfare, 2008) that among animal welfare scientists one criterion has not surfaced to be more important than the other two. So in applying that to gestation stalls, I have a hard time coming up with a way to justify them. Are there really any intensive confinement systems for sows that meet all three criteria?

  22. I have to agree with many of the posters here that gestation stalls seem inherently detrimental to the sows’ welfare. Pigs, as you know, require much mental and physical stimulation, which both seem denied to them in the stalls. Please consider taking a stance for their welfare, and against gestation stalls.

  23. Ethologists try to see things from the animals’ perpective. It doesn’t take much imagination to conclude that isolation in a metal indoor cage without the opportunity to move about and socialize is a gross failure to meet the most basic needs for a decent life. Gestation crates are abhorrent and should be roundly condemned by the AVMA.

  24. Athough the piece was logically reasoned and interesting from a contextural perspective, the anwer as to what is AVMA’s position was not forthcoming. The reason there is so much complexity and hedging is that there is no intensive confinement system that meets the needs of these intelligent and sensitive creatures, especially when the over-arching goal of the industry is to maximize profits.

  25. As a veterinarian concerned about animal welfare, I have learned that there are three equally important criteria by which to judge animal welfare.
    1. Basic health and functioning. Are animals healthy and reproducing?
    2. Affective states. Are animals free of hunger, pain, frustrations, and distress? Are they able to enjoy life?
    3. Natural living. Are animals allowed to live a reasonably natural life in that they are able to carry out certain elements of their natural behavior and live in the manner to which they have adapted?

    There are many groups of people in our society that have a say or a stake in animal welfare, and each group may value one of the above criteria more that the other two. These value judgments explain why industry may say that gestation stalls are acceptable in terms of welfare because the animals are healthy and reproducing. In terms of welfare, they value affective states and natural living less than basic health. Animal protection groups likely favor most attention placed on affective states. They want to be sure that animals are not suffering, and better yet, want to ensure that animals are given the opportunity to live a life worth living. Consumers may be concerned that animals live natural lives and be able to express natural behaviors. Not that these groups would ignore the other two criteria, but they would allow one criteria to trump the other two. Science is not value free. It’s good that we know that and accept that. Animal welfare scientists; however, have not allowed one of the criteria to trump the other two. They are all equal.

    As a veterinarian, I regard my education as equipping me with the ability to understand and use all three criteria equally in evaluating an animal welfare situation. Specifically, this is how I see sow gestation stalls. They fail to meet all three criteria of animal welfare. Sows lack control over their environment; they are frustrated; they show high levels of abnormal, stereotypic behavior; they are chronically hungry; they are unable to carry out basic bodily movements because they cannot walk or turn around for most of their lives (multiple litters over multiple years). Pigs are intelligent, sentient animals and in gestation crates they can display the abnormal psychological state of learned helplessness from prolonged frustration and stress.

    As a veterinarian I do not find it perplexing to figure out or difficult to say that I am against the use of gestation stalls for housing pregnant sows. In fact, I’m pretty unequivocal on that matter.

    The ethics of consumers will drive the move away from gestation crates. As a member of AVMA, I’m disappointed that they can’t make a similar decision.

    • Thank you, Dr. Teachout, for sharing the health and function/affective states/natural living paradigm as proposed by Drs. Fraser, Weary, Pajor, and Miligan (Fraser D, Weary DM, Pajor EA, Miligan BN. A scientific conception of animal welfare that reflects ethical concerns. Animal Welfare 1997;6:174–186). It provides a useful framework for animal welfare discussions, particularly in relation to their social aspects, and you will see related comments in the 2005 report of our Task Force on the Housing of Pregnant Sows, for which Dr. Fraser served as a consultant. As acknowledged in that report, veterinarians, too, have different perspectives as to which attributes of welfare they value most and we appreciate you sharing yours with us.

      Readers may also find it interesting to consider the various sow housing systems in the context of other theories that have been applied to welfare assessment, namely the Five Freedoms (Brambell Commission [1965], and modified by the UK Farm Animal Welfare Council over the next several decades) and Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs. These frameworks have a more animal-centric (as compared with societal) focus and may provide additional perspective.

  26. you are in clear violation of your own ” Principles of Veterinary Medical Ethics of the AVMA “, Chapter II. A. ” Veterinarians should first consider the needs of the patient : to relieve disease , suffering or disability while minimizing pain or fear . ” Forcing sows to live in a constant cycle of impregnation and birth while being kept in a cage barely larger than their bodies , driving them insane , causing arthritis , over grown hoofs , open sores and other injuries is flat out animal cruelty at its worst ! Wolfgang Planz !

  27. Pigs and other food animals are conscious and sentient beings despite the fact that some scientists/welfarists still claim we don’t really know if they’re conscious — What I call “Dawkins’ Dangerous Idea” is a most ridiculous and misleading line of thinking as solid science shows clearly that they are. Crates are inhumane and thank you Julie for asking the question “Is the AVMA for or against the use of gestation crates for pigs?” Amazing how they can skirt around the real question at hand.

  28. Very good that this issue is being discussed, but it should be recognized that there are other ways pigs can be kept besides individual stalls, turn around stalls or pens. When these are assessed, there are serious problems with them all. How about giving pigs ample outdoor areas with healthy vegetation, keeping them in proper social groups, providing them with wholesome food and shelter and veterinary care when needed? The problem is that the industry and AVMA look at several bad systems and conclude, correctly, that they all have problems.

    • Thank you, Gene, for your comment and for including outdoor housing in the discussion. We did indirectly reference this in (3) of our brief description of what housing for pregnant sows should do, namely “provide a good environment in terms of things like air quality, temperature and humidity.” While I appreciate that you find outdoor housing for sows desirable, it, like the other housing options currently available presents challenges for the welfare of sows. While outdoor housing may provide freedom of movement and complexity in environment, it also presents potential negatives for sow welfare in terms of exposure to temperature and humidity extremes, predators, and parasites. There are practicality issues as well in terms of the number of pigs that are produced annually in the United States.

  29. There is ample evidence that pigs suffer tremendously in gestation crates.

    The pork industry cares about pig welfare only in terms of keeping them alive long enough to get to slaughter weight. Feed is one of the largest costs of factory farming, and crates don’t just make sure each sow gets enough food to survive, it makes sure they get the minimum necessary amount of food to get to slaughter weight. The goal here is to keep meat artificially cheap and increase margins by externalizing the cost of producing it anywhere else, onto the environment, onto their own workers, and onto the animals. Gestation stalls may keep pork cheap, but the pigs are paying the real price. I would guess that a veterinary group would have a bigger interest in really recommending what is best for the animals, instead of being concerned about what is best for the pork industry.

  30. The AVMA should follow the lead of Dr. Temple Grandin and the scientific advisory committees of McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Burger King, and call for an end to gestation crates. By sitting on the sidelines as the largest food companies enact gestaton crate-free policies, and more and mroe states ban gestation crates, AVMA is becoming irrelevant.

  31. Gestation crataes are one of the most egregious practices I have ever heard of. The AVMA should take a clear and powerful stand against and do so immediately.

  32. WOW you still went around the question. PLEASE answer FOR or AGAINST. Is the AVMA for or against the use of gestation crates for pigs?