How important is cheaper bacon?

I don’t write much about vegan issues because there are only so many non-mainstream issues I can discuss before I give the impression that I’m ready to abandon society, live in a hut and forsake showering. Sometimes an issue worth mentioning hits the news.

The largest U.S. pork supplier, Virginia-based Smithfield Foods, said yesterday [01/24] that it will require its producers to phase out the practice of keeping pregnant pigs in “gestation crates” — metal and concrete cages that animal welfare advocates consider one of the most inhumane features of large-scale factory farming.

Activists hailed the decision as perhaps the most significant voluntary improvement ever made in animal welfare, but they said the stage had been set by the recent passage of two state initiatives that would ban the use of the crates.

That’s indeed overdue but significant. I accept that my dietary choices will remain the minority in my lifetime, barring some unanticipated development. But I’m still amazed that even a minimal shift like this has taken so long. Any basic awareness of the issue should reveal exactly how cruel this is. It seems only someone with a complete indifference to the suffering of farmed animals could deem cheaper meat more important than a small level of decency. Basically, I’d be curious to hear how this could be considered humane or defensible:

While they defended the use of the crates — which are so narrow that the animals cannot turn around and some have to lie uncomfortably on their chests — they said their own research had concluded they could be replaced by group pens without any long-term problems or cost increases.

Remember, these are pregnant pigs that cannot turn around and may be forced to lie on their chests. I’m not going to jump on the animal rights soapbox because I know most people see that as extreme. I don’t think it is, although I’ll grant that some activists take that to its extreme. But actions such as this don’t need to be motivated by any notion of rights for animals. Actions like this are about the humans who care for and consume these animals in a time when it isn’t necessary for survival. We don’t think it’s acceptable to mistreat “cute” animals like cats and dogs, so why is it acceptable to mistreat other animals? Because we decided they taste better? That can’t be enough.

For what it’s worth, I think the seriousness with which this will be undertaken and to which it will be adhered is explained by the implementation timeline of this decision. Smithfield expects all of its pig nurseries will be converted to group pens within 10 years. Many animals will suffer over the next decade.