“We think this is something we can’t ignore.”
– MIKE TEILLET, MPC
The Manitoba Pork Council may be edging toward supporting the eventual elimination of gestation crates for pregnant sows.
A proposed policy statement in a sustainable development strategy being developed by the council calls for more research on, and a possible switch to, alternative housing systems for swine.
“Manitoba Pork Council commits to continuing research into methods of raising and housing animals, including consideration of eventually phasing out sow gestation cages and consideration of ‘loose’ or straw-based housing for hogs,” the statement reads.
The proposal to eliminate gestation crates has a long way to go before becoming Manitoba Pork Council policy, if it ever does.
It is one of 85 policy statements the pork council is considering as it develops a sustainable development plan for Manitoba hog producers.
The statements are currently in the form of a workbook which the council plans to circulate for discussion among producers.
Manitoba Pork Council delegates spent three hours discussing the proposed strategy during an April 9 workshop following their annual meeting in Winnipeg. A draft document may be ready this summer.
Besides consulting with producers, MPC plans to discuss its plan with Keystone Agr icultural Producers, Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives and other outside groups, said Mike Teillet, the council’s sustainable development manager.
A final version, which Teillet called a “new green plan” for the Manitoba hog industry, could be released in late summer or early fall.
He stressed the strategy is only a set of sustainable development guidelines and does not have the force of law.
“We don’t control producers. We can’t force them to do things. But we will do what we can,” Teillet said.
“This is a public statement by us saying, we’re doing what we can to improve sustainable development.”
The strategy covers a wide range of subjects, including environmental practices, health and safety, research, food safety, public awareness, trade, international relations and economic development.
Some statements are motherhood and others are about practices already covered by provincial regulations, Teillet said.
But the section on animal well-being, particularly the statement on gestation crates, is expected to generate vigorous discussion among producers.
Gestation stalls are a hot-button item both inside and outside the industry, defended by producers as a necessary management tool and denounced by opponents as cruel to animals.
The Winnipeg Humane Society has for several years had a “Quit Stalling” campaign to phase out gestation crates.
But developments outside Manitoba may eventually force producers to abandon sow crates in favour of open housing, Teillet said.
The latest occurred last November in California, where state voters passed Proposition 2, a ballot initiative to eliminate sow stalls, battery cages and veal crates by 2015. Other U. S. states have previously adopted similar measures.
Major pork processors, including Maple Leaf Meats in Canada and Smithfield Farms in the U. S., announced in 2007 they will phase out sow stalls in their production systems over 10 years.
Since the tide is rising against gestation stalls, producers should see the writing on the wall and prepare for their possible future elimination, said Teillet.
“We think this is something we can’t ignore,” he said. “We know this is going to come anyway.”
During the MPC meeting, Florian Possberg, a Canadian Pork Council director, urged delegates to get out in front of the animal welfare issue before public pressure does.
“We’ll get a lot more restrictions on us if we let someone else rule the timetable,” said Possberg, president and CEO of Big Sky Farms in Humboldt, Saskatchewan. [email protected]