By P.J. Huffstutter
CHICAGO, Jan 9 (Reuters) - Tyson Foods Inc., the nation's second largest pork producer, said Thursday it will require more humane animal treatment farmers that raise its pigs and keep a closer eye on all of its hog suppliers in North America.
Tyson said it will be rolling out more third-party inspections this year of sow farms that supply it animals. And after an undercover video last year caught an Oklahoma farm operation abusing some of Tyson's own pigs, the company will require all to install video-monitoring systems by year's end, according to a letter Tyson sent out to farmers on Wednesday.
Tyson also said in the letter it will force its contract farmers to stop euthanizing sick or injured piglets by blunt force, such as slamming a piglet's head against the ground in order to kill it.
Many of these new hog rules for hog producers, according to the letter sent out this week, are required for only those farmers that raise pigs owned by Tyson: Less than 5 percent of the company's annual hog supply in North America comes from these operations, Mickelson said.
The company is also asking these contract farmers to roll out pens for pregnant sows that have improved "quality and quantity of space," according to the letter.
The letter did not specify what such enclosures should be, but noted that "we believe future sow housing should allow sows of all sizes to stand, turn around, lie down and stretch their legs."
The majority of Tyson's hogs are supplied by more than 3,000 independent operators, the company said.
Tyson said it is encouraging these independent farmers, who sell their animals to Tyson's slaughter plants, to adopt all these new changes, but only the additional third-party audits will be required of such operators this year.
The letter was delivered weeks after Tyson Foods terminated its contract with the Oklahoma-based operation after undercover video footage was released showing farm workers hitting pigs with wooden boards, kicking animals and gouging their eyes.
The company's policy changes were not in reaction to any one incident, but part of an ongoing push for "responsible animal practices" among all of its suppliers, said company spokesman Gary Mickelson.
"We're trying to balance the expectations of consumers with the realities of today's hog farming business," Mickelson said.
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