Meat Processors Slowing Changing Animal Treatment Practices

Change is coming to the industry that should result in better treatment for cows, pigs, and chickens.

Jan 11, 2014 at 2:00PM

Just because animals are purposely raised for slaughter doesn't mean they should be kept in conditions that are brutish and miserable. While some animal rights groups have effectively pressured companies to change their practices, lately it's marketplace forces that are creating the necessary environment that makes it unprofitable for meat processors to maintain the status quo.

Gestation

Gestation crates. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

When Smithfield Foods was sold to a Chinese meat processor last year, it banned the use of the weight-gain drug ractopamine because it is banned in many European countries, as well as China and Russia. Merck ended up suspending production of the similarly situated drug Zilmax following Tyson Foods (NYSE:TSN) halting its use after meat packers stopped accepting Zilmax-fed cattle. The drug, which had been used for years and was declared safe for both cattle and human consumption by the Agriculture Department, caused cows to gain as much as 35 pounds before they were led to slaughter. 

And last month, Tyson told U.S. cattlemen they were going to have abide by animal welfare rules like those it has in place for pork because it was coming under pressure from McDonald's and Whole Foods Market to change its ways.

Tyson came under tremendous pressure last year heading into its annual shareholders meeting to change the way its hogs are treated. Animal rights organizations and private equity firms alike called on the meat processor to ban the use of gestation crates, confining cages that prohibit a breeding pig from doing little else but stand stock-still for the duration of their four-month pregnancy. They're then placed in another cage to give birth, reimpregnated, and put back into the gestation crate. More than 80% of breeding pigs in the U.S. are held in such crates.

Smithfield Foods just announced that it too is asking all its contract hog farmers to phase out the use of gestation cages. The meat processor already has in place plans to phase out their use here in the U.S. by 2017, and says 54% of the transition is completed, but it wants the rest of its global network of growers to do so as well by 2022. Both Hormel and Maple Leaf Foods also have plans in place to phase out gestation crate use within the next few years.

Indeed, much of the food service industry has moved in that direction. From fast-food chains like McDonald's and Burger King Worldwide to grocery stores such as Kroger and Costco, the move for humane treatment is becoming widespread, and possibly got its biggest push forward in 2012 when food-service giant Sysco committed to establishing a gestation crate-free supply chain.

So, while Tyson can be seen as one of the latecomers, as its distribution channel brings more pressure to bear, it acknowledges its policies must be more than just about treating pigs humanely. After all, it's a "three-protein company" -- beef, chicken, and pork -- and all of its protein providers will need to abide by its animal welfare rules.

While many of these commitments by processors and suppliers afford the companies as much as a decade to come into compliance, they at least hold out the promise that animals will one day be able to live out lives that go beyond the Hobbesian condition of being "nasty, brutish, and short."

Don't buy a pig in a poke
There's a huge difference between a good stock and a stock that can make you rich. The Motley Fool's chief investment officer has selected his No. 1 stock for 2014, and it's one of those stocks that could make you rich. You can find out which stock it is in the special free report "The Motley Fool's Top Stock for 2014." Just click here to access the report and find out the name of this under-the-radar company.

John Mackey, co-CEO of Whole Foods Market, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Fool contributor Rich Duprey has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Burger King Worldwide, Costco Wholesale, McDonald's, Sysco, and Whole Foods Market. The Motley Fool owns shares of Costco Wholesale, McDonald's, and Whole Foods Market. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Money to your ears - A great FREE investing resource for you

The best way to get your regular dose of market and money insights is our suite of free podcasts ... what we like to think of as “binge-worthy finance.”

Feb 1, 2016 at 5:03PM

Whether we're in the midst of earnings season or riding out the market's lulls, you want to know the best strategies for your money.

And you'll want to go beyond the hype of screaming TV personalities, fear-mongering ads, and "analysis" from people who might have your email address ... but no track record of success.

In short, you want a voice of reason you can count on.

A 2015 Business Insider article titled, "11 websites to bookmark if you want to get rich," rated The Motley Fool as the #1 place online to get smarter about investing.

And one of the easiest, most enjoyable, most valuable ways to get your regular dose of market and money insights is our suite of free podcasts ... what we like to think of as "binge-worthy finance."

Whether you make it part of your daily commute or you save up and listen to a handful of episodes for your 50-mile bike rides or long soaks in a bubble bath (or both!), the podcasts make sense of your money.

And unlike so many who want to make the subjects of personal finance and investing complicated and scary, our podcasts are clear, insightful, and (yes, it's true) fun.

Our free suite of podcasts

Motley Fool Money features a team of our analysts discussing the week's top business and investing stories, interviews, and an inside look at the stocks on our radar. The show is also heard weekly on dozens of radio stations across the country.

The hosts of Motley Fool Answers challenge the conventional wisdom on life's biggest financial issues to reveal what you really need to know to make smart money moves.

David Gardner, co-founder of The Motley Fool, is among the most respected and trusted sources on investing. And he's the host of Rule Breaker Investing, in which he shares his insights into today's most innovative and disruptive companies ... and how to profit from them.

Market Foolery is our daily look at stocks in the news, as well as the top business and investing stories.

And Industry Focus offers a deeper dive into a specific industry and the stories making headlines. Healthcare, technology, energy, consumer goods, and other industries take turns in the spotlight.

They're all informative, entertaining, and eminently listenable. Rule Breaker Investing and Answers are timeless, so it's worth going back to and listening from the very start; the other three are focused more on today's events, so listen to the most recent first.

All are available for free at www.fool.com/podcasts.

If you're looking for a friendly voice ... with great advice on how to make the most of your money ... from a business with a lengthy track record of success ... in clear, compelling language ... I encourage you to give a listen to our free podcasts.

Head to www.fool.com/podcasts, give them a spin, and you can subscribe there (at iTunes, Stitcher, or our other partners) if you want to receive them regularly.

It's money to your ears.

 


Compare Brokers