Pork industry moves to group pens at great cost

STEVE KARNOWSKI Associated Press Published:

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Pork producers are giving hogs more space. But they say consumers opposed to keeping pregnant sows in tight cages can expect to pay for their clearer consciences with higher food prices.

Under pressure from animal rights activists -- and a shift in consumer sentiment -- several major pork producers have agreed to phase out gestation crates. McDonald's recently announced its pork suppliers will have to stop using them as well.

Dennis Treacy (TRAY'-see) is executive vice president of Smithfield Foods, the world's largest pork producer. He calls the McDonald's announcement "a tipping point."

But the switch to bigger pens requires building new barns or renovating old ones. It also takes more labor and training. Experts say at least some of those costs are likely to be passed on to consumers.