Protesting against what they call "shocking animal abuse," a group of approximately 25 protestors held a demonstration in New York City on Thursday, hoping to raise awareness over what they say is Walmart's pork suppliers' alleged practice of confining pregnant sows to small gestation crates.
Walmart stores across the county -- including a location in Riverhead -- are allegedly dealing with pork suppliers that confine the pigs to the crates, protestors said.
According to the animal rights' group, Mercy for Animals, an "undercover investigation" in July revealed alleged animal abuse at a major Walmart pork supplier.
Mercy for Animals representatives charge that Walmart has "refused to follow the lead" of other major retailers including Costco, Kroger, and Safeway, who have put the brakes on suppliers who use gestation crates, which, animal advocates say, are "inherently cruel."
Phil Letten, MFA's national campaign coordinator, said Walmart is "dragging their feet." Basically, every other food provider, he said, has turned their back on gestation crates.
Protests have been organized, he said, to raise awareness. "We definitely feel consumers have a right to know where their food comes from, and how animals are treated, so they can make informed decisions."
Walmart spokeswoman Deisha Galberth Barnett responded on Friday: “This is a complicated issue and there are different points of view. We currently offer gestation crate-free pork products in a number of stores across the United States and will continue our ongoing discussions with suppliers, non-governmental organizations and food safety experts to increase that number," she said. “We hold our suppliers to the highest standards and do not tolerate animal mistreatment."
Galberth Barnett encouraged customers interested in learning more about how grocers and restaurants source pork products to contact the National Pork Board.
Eric Wells, owner of Wells Farm on Sound Avenue in Riverhead, also raises pigs. Regarding the debate of Walmart suppliers, Wells said, "Without seeing exactly what they’re doing, I can't say what they're doing is right or wrong."
Wells added that in order to make a "better judgment call," he'd have to see the suppliers' facility and, in order to make a fair assessment, he'd have to see the pens used for pigs and how many pigs were put in each pen. "If the pigs are overcroweed, yes, that's wrong," Wells said.
What's most important, Wells said, is raising healthy animals; he said using hormones, as some do, is not an approach he supports. "As long as they're healthy, that's what counts."
On the Wells Farm, pigs were originally fed corn -- owners raise 150 acres of corn on the property. But, Wells said, the pigs weren't getting enough nutrition, so now, the corn is mixed with all-natural duck grower pellets. "It gives them a more nutrition-based diet," he said.
In addition, Wells Farm pigs are kept in a barn on cement floors. "Every single day, we go in there and completely clean out the pens," Wells said. The pigs, he said, receive new feed every day. "In my opinion, that is one of the better ways of raising pigs."
Also on the Wells Farm, pigs are able to graze in a two-acre fenced-in swamp. "We let the pigs loose in there," Wells said. "There's fresh water to drink and they just go around grazing, eating natural shrubs."
The pens in the barn, Wells said, are "empty" compared to other facilities. Smaller bigs are kept in 10 x 20 pens, with 15 pigs at the most kept inside. Larger pigs are kept in 20 x 20 pens, with 15 to 20 pigs inside. Although technically, up to 50 pigs could fit, Wells said that would be "overcrowding."