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As Interest in Group Housed Pork Rises, OSI Helps Customers Fulfill Commitments

March 15, 2021

For more than 100 years, OSI has worked with leading food brands to fulfill their evolving needs. In recent years, many consumers have grown increasingly interested in the origins of their food and the environmental and social impact of their purchases. In response to this interest, our customers are seeking options that reflect the values and priorities of discerning consumers, from poultry that has "never ever" received antibiotics, to pork from pigs housed a particular way.

As a sustainability-focused company, we are first and foremost dedicated to ensuring that all the raw materials we source meet our own environmental, social and animal welfare standards. We maintain these standards through our rigorously tracked approved supplier lists, policies informed by science and stakeholders, a robust auditing system, and regular engagement with industry experts. We also work closely with leading companies that often develop their own rigorous supply standards. We are proud of our ability to establish supply chains that can fulfill many specific requests.

When customers work with us to source from what is often referred to as an “enrichment” program, we help clarify their goals, identify sources of meat or other raw materials that meet those needs, and ensure the most efficient and cost-effective ways of buying what is needed. "OSI goes above and beyond to support our customers in their choices," says Ricky Trainor, OSI Supply Chain Manager. "We work to educate our customers about what various enrichment choices might mean in terms of price and availability of supply, as well as impacts and potential tradeoffs associated with their choices, and then we work with them to meet their targets and goals."

In the last decade, one choice considered by many North American brands was a shift to pork sourced from specialized sow-housing systems used in pork production, such as Group Housed Pork (GHP) and/or Gestation Stall-Free. These supply chains are in contrast to those using systems that house sows in separate stalls. The interest in these specific sow-housing programs has been driven by some stakeholders who believe that these production systems deliver superior animal welfare benefits. As with all matters of animal husbandry, choices about sow-housing systems involved a complex set of considerations and tradeoffs for the farmers involved in caring for pigs. We strive to help our customers navigate these complex considerations, and to help them to make the best choice possible for their business, brand and customers.

In the interview below, OSI's Ricky Trainor and Jennifer Raspaldo, North America Director of Quality and Materials, elaborate on different pork housing systems used in the U.S. and Canada and how we work with our customers to fulfill their needs.

Q: What is Group Housed Pork?

Jennifer: Group Housed Pork (GHP) refers to pork sourced from farms where sows, or female pigs, are raised in a group setting. This setting can be a small pen, a large pen or an open space where they can walk around and socialize. This system has advantages — notably the ability for sows to be more mobile — but can have drawbacks as well. Traditional systems house sows in individual stalls so farmers can more easily customize their feed and medical attention, and monitor their health and pregnancies. Group Housed systems can generate more injuries and competition over food, which can result in smaller litters.

Q: How does GHP differ from Gestation Stall-Free Pork?

Jennifer: Gestation Stall-Free Pork is a very specific program. It refers to pork from production systems that do not use individual stalls at all, even during sensitive times during a sow's gestation and postpartum period. In Group Housed Pork systems, farmers may keep sows in individual stalls for varying periods of time. Those periods vary from producer to producer, but typically include the time between artificial insemination and confirmed pregnancy, and when sows are getting ready to give birth. Toward the end of pregnancy, sows are moved to what are called farrowing stalls, which allow for individualized care and minimize external stressors during labor and the initial nursing period. These practices often result in higher pregnancy rates and increased litter sizes. Gestation Stall-Free Pork, however, will not allow for the use of stalls at all and prioritizes mobility, exercise, socialization and foraging behavior over all else.

Q: What do GHP or Gestation Stall-Free pork requests mean for farmers?

Ricky: Today only a very small percentage of the pork produced in North America is GHP, and even less is Gestation Stall-Free pork. As interest in these branded programs has increased, however, many farmers have made the decision to convert their barns from traditional individual stall systems to Group Housed systems. This is not an easy decision for farmers to make. The transition requires significant capital investment and may also result in fewer pigs per litter — an important financial consideration every pork farmer must take into account. As a result of limited supply, buyers pay a premium for GHP and an even higher premium for Gestation Stall-Free pork sourced from other sow-housing systems.

Q: What role does OSI play in fulfilling these types of requests?

Ricky: OSI North America doesn't raise or process any animals. We are a further processor of foods. However, by virtue of our position in the food supply chain, we have deep insights into what is happening on farms and at meat processing plants, and we know what our supply base can provide. We can therefore inform our customers about the current supply of pork programs with loose housing claims and advise them on when more volume may become available. We partner with our customers on the toughest decisions they have to make about their sourcing requirements, and ultimately ensure that they meet their commitments and can confidently support the claims they make about their products.

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