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BrownfieldAgNews reports:

Smithfield Foods and its hog production subsidiary Murphy-Brown is asking its contract sow growers to convert their facilities from gestation stalls to group housing systems for pregnant sows.

The company says it will offer incentives to its growers to complete the conversions by 2022 and that growers who commit to convert to group housing will receive contract extensions upon completion of the conversion.

Smithfield is in the process of converting its company-owned farms to group housing. The company says that transition was 54 percent complete at the end of 2013.

Reacting to Smithfield's announcement, National Pork Producers Council CEO Neil Dierks says he doesn't see it as a statement of one housing system being right or wrong, but more about opportunities in the marketplace.

"If people can find markets in the marketplace that cover and compensate the producer for added costs that go forward with this system, then the marketplace will dictate that," Dierks says.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has pressured retailers to demand gestation stall-free pork from their suppliers, but Dierks doesn't believe Smithfield's announcement is directly attributable to HSUS.

"Obviously, HSUS has a position that one system is better than the other," he says, "but I think it's more decisions that have been occurring over time."

Dierks says NPPC still believes that individual producers should have the freedom to make the right choice for their operations and their animals.

"There is no one perfect system, according to research that was done by the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Association of Swine Practitioners. Each system has inherent advantages and disadvantages. But again it comes back to the care and management of the animals given by the producer."

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