Canada’s second-largest pork producer says it will phase out the use of pig gestation crates—small metal stalls that confine the animals for much of their lives—and is urging others in the industry to follow suit.
Olymel, a Quebec-based meat packer, has announced it will phase out the use of crates for pregnant sows in its breeding facilities by 2022, saying the decision was “inevitable” after bans on the controversial crates in some U.S. states and the European Union, with more countries expected to follow.
In addition, the company’s customers are demanding it, says Olymel spokesman Richard Vigneault.
“This was [a culmination of] a long time of reflection and thinking about this issue, and the issue of our clients worldwide,” he says.
“[Our customers] requested a position from us on this, because they wanted to order pork that, as a product, was not coming from the practice of gestation crates—they wanted pork products free of this practice.”
Olymel owns nine pork packing and processing plants in Quebec and a bacon plant in Cornwall, Ontario, and has its primary hog slaughter plant in Red Deer, Alberta.
Sows are often kept in the crates from seven months of age, when they begin a continuous cycle of impregnation and birth.
The company got directly involved in hog production for the first time in January, when it bought Saskatchewan-based Big Sky Farms out of receivership for $65 million. Olymel slaughters about 160,000 pigs per week.
Vigneault says the transition away from using gestation crates will be “a big change,” citing figures from the Quebec Pork Federation estimating the cost to the industry in that province alone would be $500 million. But it’s a change that needs to happen, he notes.
“We wish others will follow this,” says Vigneault.
“Experts say that this practice could be transformed and could be more appropriate for animal welfare. We agree with that, but we realize at the same time that it will take time to change the forms, the breeding facilities, and so on. So in our eyes, 10 years is a reasonable period to ban those gestation crates and go for a new practice more acceptable to everyone.”
Pig gestation crates, barely larger than the animal’s body, are widely used in Canada. Currently about 1.4 million breeding sows on farms across the country are confined in the crates. Sows are often kept in the crates from seven months of age, when they begin a continuous cycle of impregnation and birth.
‘No future’ for Crates
Humane Society International Canada (HSI Canada) lauded Olymel’s move to phase out the crates, saying they have no future in the industry and there is a “global trend” away from their use.
“Olymel’s decision further highlights the fact that gestation crates have no future in the pork industry,” Sayara Thurston, campaigner with HSI Canada, said in a statement.
“No pregnant sow should spend even one day in a cruel gestation crate, and we encourage the rest of the industry to heed Olymel’s call and take immediate steps to shift away from their use.”
The animal rights group says the sows, highly social animals, suffer tremendously from their confinement in the stalls, which are too small to turn around in.
Olymel’s decision further highlights the fact that gestation crates have no future in the pork industry.
— Sayara Thurston, HSI Canada
Pigs raised in gestation crates endure pain such as leg, joint, and hoof injuries, weakened bones, abrasions, impaired mobility, obesity, chronic stress, depression, frustration, aggression, abnormal neurotic behaviour, cardiovascular problems, and disease, says the group.
Gestation crates have been banned in nine U.S. states, starting with Florida in 2002. A ban on the crates in the European Union came into effect in January, and New Zealand has pledged to phase them out by 2015. Major pork producers such as Maple Leaf and Smithfield Foods have also condemned the practice.
To date nearly 50 major food retailers and fast-food chains such as McDonald’s, Tim Horton’s, Burger King, Safeway, and Costco have vowed to eliminate gestation crates from their supply chains within the next decade.
In related news, Calgary Co-op members last week voted in favour of phasing out eggs and pork produced from animals kept in confinement cages. If approved by the board of directors, the move will be a first for a major Canadian grocer. The Co-op would remove the products from their stores over the next five years.
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