Animal rights groups applaud retailers’ move against gestation stalls

The Retail Council of Canada’s apparent plan to phase out gestation stalls 
won’t influence how the Manitoba Pork Council advises its producers

Manitoba Pork Council says a sweeping endorsement of updated sow housing practices, including phasing out gestation stalls by 2022, by the Retail Council of Canada won’t change how its producers raise their animals.

“It really changes nothing in our position at all, a whole host of independent retailers, like Tim Hortons and like Walmart have already been coming out and stating they wanted to move away from these sow stalls,” said Karl Kynoch, chairman of the Manitoba Pork Council. “At the end of the day it’s up to the retailers whether they buy the product or not.”

The retailers’ association — whose members include Co-op Atlantic, Canada Safeway, Costco Wholesale Canada, Federated Co-operatives, Loblaws, Metro, Sobeys, and Walmart Canada — are working with the pork industry on an updated Pig Codes of Practice to be released June 1. It’s expected the new code will address the use of gestation stalls.

“While these stalls have allowed for easier management of sows through more consistent feeding and less injuries from aggression, the restriction in movement has led to concerns that this system inhibits natural behaviours,” the Retail Council of Canada said in a statement.

The retailer group does not specifically indicate support for a ban on gestation stalls. But it states: “RCC grocery members support the Canadian Pork Council’s process to update its Codes of Practice and will work towards sourcing fresh pork products from sows raised in alternative housing practices as defined in the updated codes by the end of 2022.“

However, many consumer and animal rights groups have interpreted the statement as a commitment to shift buying away from producers using the stalls.

“We praise Canada’s top grocers for making the humane and socially responsible choice to phase out inherently cruel gestation crates,” said Twyla Francois, a director with the group Mercy for Animals. “We are pleased that retailers have finally listened to their ethically minded customers and are taking action to end the abusive practice.”

An undercover video taken at a Manitoba hog barn and released by the activist group last fall, sparked a public outcry over the use of sow stalls. However, local campaigns such as “Quit Stalling” have fought the use of gestation stalls for more than a decade.

Kynoch said he is concerned a move away from gestation stalls could be a step backwards in terms of animal welfare.

“At the end of the day, the producer will always strive to do what is best for the animal, but our biggest concern is that when we make change, we make change in a positive way,” he said. “There are some very good reasons why the industry moved to stalls a number of years ago.”

In recent weeks there has been confusion about the pork council’s commitment to a voluntary phase-out of the stalls by 2025, first espoused in 2011.

A document released that year entitled Embracing a Sustainable Future, makes the statement that “Manitoba Pork commits to encouraging producers to phase out by 2025, the style of dry sow stalls currently used. New forms of housing must be practical and provide protection to animals and humans alike.”

However, Kynoch recently indicated the council is only asking producers to look at other sow housing options by 2025.

He clarified the council’s position on phasing out gestation stalls last week.

“We’re not forcing them to do it, we’re not telling them to do it, we’re encouraging them to do it… in a way that allows them to look at other options and to do the research,” he said.

In a press release, the Canadian Pork Council said it views the commitment made by the retail council on sow housing as an opportunity for productive dialogue between farmers and retailers.

The national council is also on the record as stating the value chain needs to recognize the additional cost to producers making the adjustment.

About the author

Reporter

Shannon VanRaes is a journalist and photojournalist at the Manitoba Co-operator. She also writes a weekly urban affairs column for Metro Winnipeg, and has previously reported for the Winnipeg Sun, Outwords Magazine and the Portage Daily Graphic.

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