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article imagePasturing pigs a better way to raise pork but will consumers pay?

By W. Mark Dendy     Jan 23, 2014 in Food
Thanks to a society looking at humane treatment of animals, even those destined for the dinner table, some farmers have opted to raise the prime meat animal that supplies us with that delectable meat — bacon — in pastures rather than stalls.
According to the New York Times, the number of farmers "raising pigs on hoof, in contrast to the barns and confinement stalls used in large scale industrial settings" is on the rise.
"Consumers may be willing to pay more for pork" from farmers who are concerned about the environment, food safety, and pig welfare said a 2006 Journal of Animal Science report on pork markets.
The issue of mistreatment of pigs was brought to the forefront in Oct. 2013 by a shocking video made by an undercover investigator with Mercy for Animals.
WARNING: The video is very graphic and disturbing. Pigs are shown raised in individual stalls designed so they cannot move or even lay down to sleep. The most appalling scenes were workers castrating piglets, cutting tails off, and slamming the baby pigs on the concrete floor.
On the other extreme, however, of those that commit these heinous acts of animal cruelty, is a "movement that's working to establish the legal personhood of animals and grant them legal rights."
There are a couple of problems though with raising pigs in way in which they are allowed more space to move. One is the demand for the meat. In order to supply the nation's hunger for the "other white meat" a large number of hogs must be ready for market, something smaller farmers cannot provide.
Another issue that cannot go without consideration is the exposure of pastured pigs to rodents and other animals that carry the trichinosis disease causing roundworms.
According to the NY Times report, pork from pastured or free range pigs would still be subject to the same USDA inspection standards as "commercially raised pork."
Loosening up standards is a non-issue for producers wanting to be competitive in a meat market that is already in the news constantly over food safety concerns.
So the question that remains unanswered is, can pork producers pasture pigs on a large enough scale to meet the consumer demand for high quality food, and if so, will the consumer be willing to pay extra to know that the meat on the dinner table was treated humanely?
More about Food production, Pork, Animal cruelty, Inhumane treatment, Farming
 
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