Smithfield Foods Inc., which has recently been under fire for its practice of using gestation crates for its pregnant sows, pledged to put an end to the usage of the crates by 2017. By the end of this year, 30 percent of the sows at its farms will be in group housing instead of crates, reports the Associated Press.

“(Our customers) want us to do that, and we’ve heard them loud and clear,” CEO Larry Pope said in a conference call with investors regarding its second-quarter financial results. “This company is going to do what’s in the best interest of the business and the best interest of our customers.”

The company previously had been in the process of converting a number of its sow farms from individual gestation stalls to group housing for pregnant sows by 2017, but Pope said it “took a two-year holiday” from that conversion in order to deal with the economic downturn the last few years.

“Smithfield’s recommitment is an important and welcome move. With the company back on track with its phase-out, I think we’re getting closer to a day when the cruel confinement of pigs in gestation crates will be a bygone era for the entire pig industry,” Paul Shapiro, senior director of farm animal protection for the Humane Society of the United States.

Source: Associated Press