|January 7, 2004:
There are some areas of society where Europeans are ahead
of North Americans and other areas vice versa. One area
where the Europeans are clearly ahead of us is in the
ethics of animal husbandry, and this shows in their public
awareness and legislation. Pork production is one of the
critical areas in animal ethics.
In North America, pigs, which are intelligent animals,
are increasingly being raised in an inhumane, crowded,
stressful, factory-style way, a system in which the
word husbandry no longer applies. Organic pork production
methods have reversed this, but organic production is
about 1% of total and is limited to consumers’
willingness to pay 50%-150% higher prices. There is
middle ground, and UK researchers have done a study
detailing the costs of production of two middle-ground
pig husbandry systems, with respect to ethical husbandry
methods, in between conventional factory-style and organic
and compared the four systems’ costs.
The four husbandry systems were:
- Fully slatted housing, which has the lowest space
allowance per animal, totally slatted floors and no
- Partly-slatted housing, which has a proportion of
the floor as a solid lying area but no bedding.
- Straw-based has space allowances greater than the
legal minimum and the provision of straw as a bedding
and rooting substrate. (Definition according to
the Freedom Food program, a British certification
organization which has requirements for raising welfare
standards for pigs.)
- A free-range system in which the pigs have access
to a straw-bedded hut at all times, together with
an outdoor pen in the early stages and paddocks later.
The cost of pig production was lowest in the partly-slatted
system. The rearing costs in the fully-slatted, straw-based,
and free-range were 3%, 7%, and 8%, higher respectively.
Organic production figures were included for comparison
and costs in that system were 144% higher. The higher
costs of the straw-based Freedom Food system were mainly
due to increased labor costs in handling straw.
Profits were per kilogram of pork were: $0.014 fully-slatted,
$0.029 partly-slatted, $0.094 Freedom Food, -$0.013
free-range, and $0.071 organic. Freedom Food and organic
both had price premiums, the others did not.
The environmental costs of manure leakage and leaching
from repeated use of the same free-range ground was
not calculated – nor the costs of rotating free-range
pastures such that manure loading stays below environmental
The authors suggest that these results show that improved
pig welfare can be achieved with a modest increase in
cost, and that their implementation will depend on consumer
desire for more humane production of pork.
Bornett, H.L.I., J.H. Guy, and P.J. Cain. 2003. "Impact
of animal welfare on costs and viability of pig production
in the UK." Journal of Agricultural and Environmental
Ethics 16: 163–186.
Don Lotter has a Ph.D. in agroecology and has worked
in sustainable agricultural development in North America,
Latin America, and Africa over the past 25 years. He
can be contacted via his website www.donlotter.com