Do Producers Truly have Choices When it Comes to Animal Care?

This week the Retail Council of Canada (RCC) reported that many of  the largest supermarket companies across the border have decided to stop procuring pork produced in systems that use gestation stalls. The new procurement specifications will be phased in over the next nine years by retailers including Costco Canada, Wal-Mart Canada, Loblaw, Metro, Sobeys, Co-op Atlantic and Federated Co-operatives.  The Canadian Pork Council (CPC) responded by saying producers will continue to focus on their first priority, which is the welfare of their animals, while working on a new set of animal care standards.

In a news release, the RCC said while gestation stalls have allowed for easier management of sows through more consistent feeding and prevention of injuries due to aggression, the restriction in movement has led to concerns that the production system inhibits, “natural behaviors.”

“Increasingly, stakeholder expectations have also been changing, and the industry is being encouraged to shift towards alternative housing practices,” the release states. It goes on to say, “We are working closely with the National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC) and the Canadian Pork Council through a robust, multi-stakeholder process to update the Pig Codes of Practice, to be released for public comment on June 1, 2013. The Pig Code update proactively deals with a number of issues relevant to pig welfare. The Retail Council of Canada believes that sows should be housed in an environment where their pregnancy, health and well-being are taken into the highest consideration; and that the selection of sow housing be based on a combination of sound science, stakeholder expectations and the long-term viability of the industry.”

By way of response, the CPC acknowledged that stakeholder expectations are changing, and said producers look forward to meeting with RCC to hear its proposals on how changes to sow housing can be managed, and how the value chain and others can share in the investment. Meatingplace.com pointed out that the Canadians were addressing the rather contentious issue of gestation stalls in the politest terms possible. I would agree that the releases were pretty carefully written, and much is conveyed via few words in that “share the investment” line in particular.

RCC says that the supermarket chains will begin working with suppliers to source pork only from sows “raised in alternative housing practices” by the end of 2022. However, the definition of “alternative housing practices,” has yet to be determined.

 

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The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and Humane Society International/Canada were, frankly, expressing outright jubilation at this news. Whenever an issue such as this surfaces in the media, HSUS sends agricultural editors an email in which all of the pro-HSUS coverage is duly noted. This week’s email pointed out the pro-HSUS stories in some of the non-surprising sources such as the Huffington Post’s Canadian edition.  However, the item HSUS chose to highlight above all others this week was a blog post in the Western Producer publication in which the writer stated,  “Gestation stalls done? Seems like it. It seems to me like you might as well stick a fork in its butt and turn it over: the gestation stall debate is done.” 

I have a couple of thoughts on this. First off, I’m glad my byline was not on that particular piece. Second, I am a firm believer in producer choice. The Western Producer author said  a “defiant attitude” was encouraged at a recent Manitoba Pork Council meeting by an “American anti-activist activist, a lawyer who fights back against critics of the industry.” The blog’s author explained that the visiting lawyer told meeting attendees to ‘hold fast’ to whatever production system they felt was OK, including sow stalls. The blog writer thought this was bad advice.

I would encourage you to read this Western Producer blog post and to think about  its message carefully. Is the move toward phasing out gestation stalls truly a done deal?  Do producers still have a choice regarding what is best for their animals….or not?  Share your thoughts with other pork producer readers in the  Comments section here, or email lora.berg@penton.com.  We will continue to follow pork industry news such as the gestation stall issue as it develops at http://nationalhogfarmer.com/

 

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