A highly publicized judge’s rebuke of hog industry transportation practices after an isolated incident in 2008 had pork industry officials on the defensive last week.
The death of 22 pigs from heat stroke on the way to slaughter in 2008 was an anomaly, says Manitoba Pork’s general manager Andrew Dickson.
Dickson said that while he hasn’t seen a transcript of provincial court Judge Fred Sandhu’s comments July 27, the news reports from the trial of truck driver Mike Maurice, don’t put the incident in its proper context.
“Five million animals are shipped to a processing plant (in Manitoba) each year,” Dickson said in an interview July 29. “This is an incident that happened three years ago. Everybody is embarrassed by it and everyone is going out of their way to make sure it doesn’t happen again. But you can’t plan for every contingency. Somebody is going to do something stupid.”
Maurice, 24, pleaded guilty to failing to ensure the safe transport of 232 pigs delivered to Maple Leaf Food’s plant in Brandon on a hot and humid day in August 2008.
Maurice reportedly loaded the pigs in Niverville and took 4-1/2 hours to drive them to Maple Leaf Foods in Brandon, including a lunch stop along the way.
After reaching the plant Maurice was parked 90 minutes before unloading. When he went to unload, he found dead pigs blocking the doorway. In addition to 22 dead hogs another six collapsed and had to be euthanized.
Maurice, who fainted at the sight and had to be treated by paramedics, had started his job two weeks earlier and had no previous experience transporting live animals, court was told.
Maurice was fined $5,000.
Upon hearing the details, Sandhu said it raises concerns.
“The suffering part – I’m not sure that’s something the industry is all that concerned about,” he said, according to theWinnipeg Free Press.“These are such highly avoidable situations. Is the attitude – they’re going to be dead in three hours anyways so what does it matter?”
“It’s clear the animals’ comfort and care isn’t being taken seriously enough,” he said. “Obviously, an animal isn’t going to report on its own suffering. It only comes to light when you have deaths, or multiple deaths like this, in horrific situations.”
What occurred doesn’t reflect the care the hog industry takes to protect animals, said Maple Leaf Foods’ spokesperson Linda Smith.
“We’d like people to understand that animal welfare is of the utmost importance to us and humane animal treatment is the cornerstone of working with animals,” she said. “This was both an unusual and appalling situation.”
Normally, trucks are unloaded much faster, Smith said. The delay occurred because dead hogs blocked the door.
“We give people a very precise window in which time to arrive – five minutes to park, 10 to 15 minutes to wait and then 20 to 30 minutes to unload,” she said. “So the median this year is 44 minutes in total.”
Charges against his employer, Roseridge Trucking Inc., were later stayed, theFree Pressreported. The company appears to have gone out of business, it said, according to sources.
Dickson said it’s mandatory that all those trucking hogs to Manitoba processors take a course on protecting animals during transport. The course is delivered through Assiniboine Community College.
Dickson said there’s a big incentive to treat hogs humanely.
“We don’t want stress in the animals,” he said. “If they arrive dead they’re no good to anybody.”
Truckers are instructed to ship fewer animals when it’s hot and periodically spray them with water.
“Nobody wants to downplay what happened,” Dickson said. “It was a bad thing, but it would’ve helped in the article if they’d put in some context. The Brandon plant alone handles 85,000 pigs a week. (Y)ou’re talking about 400 truckloads arriving every week, 52 weeks of the year. One guy, one time did this. It doesn’t mean everybody is bad. It doesn’t mean the industry is like that.” [email protected]