Canada’s pork producers are scrambling to learn more about a major Australian grocery chain’s decision to ban pork from countries that use sow gestation crates.
Coles Supermarkets said last week all its imported pork products, including processed ham and bacon, will have to be from pigs raised without the use of sow stalls.
Gary Stordy, a Canadian Pork Council spokesperson, said producers and processors are trying to determine what this will mean for exports to Australia.
“We have to get a better understanding of what they want,” Stordy said. “We’re looking to find out more.”
Canada Pork International is also taking a wait-and-see approach.
“This is one company’s decision on what they’re going to be selling,” a CPI spokesperson said.
SOW STALL FREE
Back in July, Coles announced its fresh domestic pork would have to be sow stall free, starting in 2014. The decision did not affect processed pork, much of which is imported.
Australian farmers protested, calling the move unfair and saying it should apply to imports, too. Coles then changed its policy to include all pork products from offshore as well as Australia.
The company cited animal welfare considerations as the reason for the policy.
“Coles is committed to ethical sourcing in our supply chain to meet increasing customer demand for best animal welfare standards,” merchandise director John Durkan said in a Nov. 8 statement.
“The decision to extend our sow stall-free pork policy from fresh to processed pork is another step in that direction.”
Australia is Canada’s fourth-largest export market for pork and pork products, behind Japan, the United States and Russia. In 2009, Canada sold over 49.4 million kg of pork worth nearly $139.8 million to Australia.
Coles is one of Australia’s two largest grocery chains. It and Woolworths control roughly 80 per cent of the nation’s retail grocery sales.
Bernie Peet, an Alberta pork industry consultant, said it’s uncertain if the decision by Coles will make a big dent in Canada’s pork sales to Australia.
But if companies in other countries establish similar buying practices, that could effectively set up non-tariff trade barriers, he said.
“If they do that and if others do the same thing, then how is Canada going to comply? If we’re not capable of delivering the product, then we could find ourselves excluded from the market,” said Peet, who editsWestern Hog Journal.
“Australia is a sort of bellwether, if you like.”
Stordy said specialty pork does exist in parts of Canada. For example, some stores in Ontario and New Brunswick carry antibiotic-free pork. Stallfree pork can also be found in certain places, he said.
Right now, though, Canada cannot guarantee enough
supply to satisfy overseas markets, nor does it have an officially recognized brand for such products, Stordy said.
Maple Leaf Foods announced in early 2007 it would phase out sow stalls in its hog farm system over 10 years, following the lead of Smithfield Foods in the United States.
Australia has no plans to outlaw sow stalls nationally, said an Australian High Commission spokesperson in Ottawa. A 2007 revised industry code of practice restricts the use of individual stalls to six weeks, starting in 2017. Tasmania recently decided to introduce a six-week limit in 2014 and ban the routine use of stalls in 2017.
LATEST IN TREND
The developments in Australia are the latest in an international trend against the use of gestation crates for pregnant sows. European Union nations are supposed to convert to group housing by 2012. A number of U.S. states have adopted stall-free regulations through public referendums.
But the biggest driving factor is not legislation but decisions by retailers about what kind of products they will carry, said Peet.
“If it’s driven by the retailer, it’s extremely powerful,” he said.
“If a retailer says you’ve got to do it, you’ve damn well got to do it because otherwise you won’t sell your product.” [email protected]
– Bernie Peet