Maple Leaf Meats is increasing its surveillance of loading practices for hogs shipped to the company’s slaughter plant at Brandon.
Maple Leaf will conduct assessments at loading sites in Manitoba between now and December 2010, a company official said.
Sixteen farms randomly selected from Maple Leaf’s hog operation network will undergo loading assessments to ensure humane handling, Jason Manness, procurement director for Western Canada, told a recent Manitoba Pork Marketing Co-op producer meeting.
The assessments began in September. Two farms have already been evaluated, Manness said.
The assessments do not give passing or failing grades. They only assess loading practices to ensure animals are treated properly and to suggest possible improvements if necessary, said Manness.
He told producers Maple Leaf is upping inspections because of increasing consumer pressure about humane treatment and handling of pigs. Retail customers, including fast-food restaurant chains, visit the plant regularly to audit management practices.
The Brandon plant is also subject to external audits for unloading hogs arriving for slaughter. Manness acknowledged the plant failed an unloading audit earlier this year but declined to give details.
The loading audits are conducted by a team headed by an independent consultant. Manness said they will check for things such as: whether pigs are ready for loading, how long they have been off feed, the design of loading facilities, and the “hand-off” of pigs from the barn to the truck.
Maple Leaf has a written animal welfare, handling and transportation policy which states a zero tolerance policy for willful acts of animal neglect or abuse. Hog transport vehicle drivers must be certified under a livestock transport training program. Drivers who violate the policy have their delivery privileges suspended for a minimum 30 days.
Maple Leaf announced in February 2007 it would phase out the use of sow gestation stalls in its livestock barns over 10 years. It did so a few days after Smithfield Foods, the largest pork producer in the United States, said it would do so.
Manness said Smithfield has since indicated it needs more time to conduct the phaseout. Maple Leaf has so far not said otherwise but continues to study the matter, he said. [email protected]