THE National Farm Animal Care Council in Canada has released for public comment a revised animal care code that proposes to transition confinement of pregnant sows from gestation stalls to alternative systems such as group pens.
The code specifies that no new construction of gestation stall systems would be permitted after July 1, 2014, and that all gestating sows would need to be in alternative housing by 2024.
The code is now open for public comment until Aug. 3, after which the animal care council will review comments and write a final code, which is scheduled to be published by the end of this year.
The revision has been three years in the making.
Canadian Pork Council chair Jean-Guy Vincent urged all producers "to carefully review the text" of the code and submit comments. "As it will fall to producers to implement the code, it is essential for producers ... to respond with informed and constructive input," he said.
The animal care council brings together all interested parties in a collective decision-making process to write animal care codes for farm animals. The council includes Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada, Canadian livestock and poultry trade groups, the Canadian Veterinary Medical Assn., the Canadian Restaurant & Food Services Assn. and a number of animal welfare organizations.
It develops codes through a two-committee process: a code development committee of affected stakeholders and a scientists' committee.
Gestation stalls house individual, pregnant sows and provide space for the animal to lie down and stand up but not to turn or walk around.
The confinement system has met with intense criticism from animal activists, who have mounted corporate campaigns to convince foodservice and supermarket companies to reject the practice, and a number of those companies have, in the last couple of years, announced policies that they will begin sourcing pork from only production systems that do not use stalls.
Canada's eight largest supermarket companies, in a joint statement released by the Retail Council of Canada, announced that they expect pork suppliers to have stall-free systems by the end of 2022 (Feedstuffs, May 3).
The policy would apply to U.S. pork suppliers, according to the retail council. Canada is the third-largest export market for U.S. pork.
A number of hog and pork producers, including Cargill Inc. and Smithfield Foods Inc. in the U.S., are converting their company-owned farms to group pens for gestating sows.
Olymel LP, the largest pork processor in Canada, after its January acquisition of Big Sky Farms, the second-largest hog producer in Canada, quickly announced plans to transition Big Sky from stalls to group pens by 2022 (Feedstuffs, March 25).
The animal care council's proposed code drew immediate praise from The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), which called on the National Pork Board and National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) in the U.S. to urge and support alternative housing such as group pens.
HSUS said a national poll in Canada, conducted in early May, found that 84% of Canadians support a complete phase-out of gestation stalls.
NPPC has noted that there are animal care and welfare advantages and disadvantages to both gestation stalls and group pens, citing scientific and veterinary conclusions, and has said decisions on sow housing should be left up to individual producers.