Leaders of Los Angeles-based national nonprofit Mercy for Animals protested in front of Walmart on Signal Mountain Boulevard Tuesday morning in hopes of getting the corporation to require its pork suppliers to phase out the practice of confining pigs in crates.
"We had a lot of support because most people are opposed to animal abuse," Mercy For Animals national campaign coordinator Phil Letten said Tuesday afternoon. "We want to get the message across that the hidden cost of Walmart's cheap pork is egregious animal abuse."
As part of the protest, the group had a large inflatable pig with fake bloodied sores inside of a crate set up by the road.
Although animal activist groups want Walmart to get in line with other companies, such as McDonald's and Costco—which have committed to phasing out the practice of keeping the sows in crates—Walmart leaders said the issue is complicated and that there are many points of view.
“We hold our suppliers to the highest standards and do not tolerate animal mistreatment," Walmart spokesperson Danit Marquardt said via email.
Farmers who raise sows can keep them in individual housing units—which include 2-by-7-foot gestation stalls, individual pens and turn-around stalls—or in a pen with other pigs, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.
The controversy on this topic is about keeping pregnant sows in gestation stalls, which were developed to make efficient use of space and keep expenses low while at the same time preserving solid nutrition and health for sows, according to the association.
Farmers can maintain animal welfare by using individual pens that allow for more movement, but that typically costs more money.
"The practice of confining sensitive, intelligent and social pigs into tiny gestation crates has been widely condemned by veterinarians and leading farmed animal welfare experts," according to a Mercy for Animals news release. "Confining a pregnant pig inside a narrow gestation crate, where she is virtually immobilized, has been banned in nine U.S. states and the entire European Union."
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, individual stalls are used to house about 80 percent of pregnant sows in the United States.
In Europe, the stalls are supposed to be phased out by January 2013. The European Commission said it would use legal powers against anyone who didn't change the housing systems by the deadline.
Leaders with the association said they are proponents of animal welfare and that the different housing methods meet healthy standards to varying degrees.
Click here to read more about the pros and cons of the different methods, according to the association.