In an agreement announced by the Retail Council of Canada (RCC), retailers Walmart Canada, Costco Canada, Metro, Loblaw, Safeway Canada, Federated Co-operatives, Sobeys and Co-op Atlantic have agreed to work towards sourcing pork from sows raised in “alternative housing practices” by the end of 2022.
The RCC also said that it would work with the National Farm Animal Care Council on the update to its Pig Codes of Practice, which deals with pig welfare issues. The draft Code is due to be published for public comment on 1 June 2013.
In a statement, the RCC said that sow gestation stalls had allowed producers to manage sow feeding and reduce aggression-related injuries. However, it recognised there were concerns that the stall system “inhibits natural behaviour”.
“The Retail Council of Canada believes that sows should be housed in an environment where their pregnancy, health and well-being are taken into highest consideration; and that the selection of sow housing be based on a combination of sound science, stakeholder expectations and the long-term viability of the industry,” it said.
The RCC has committed to working closely with the Canadian Pig Council (CPC) and other pig supply chain stakeholders during the phase-out period. It added that each retailer would set its own timeline according to their specific business requirements.
A statement from the CPC said that the switch to alternative housing would require “significant investment” and support from other stakeholder groups. “Not only will substantial capital investments be needed to physically change barns, but also considerable human resource efforts to choose the right system and train stockpeople to a new way of handing animals,” it said.
“The CPC looks forward to meeting with RCC to hear its proposals on how changes to sow housing can be managed and how the value chain and others can share in the investment.”
The announcement has been welcomed by animal welfare groups in Canada, which have been campaigning against sow gestation crates on the basis that they inhibit natural behaviour and cause welfare issues.
Sayara Thurston, campaigner for Humane Society International/Canada, said: “We applaud the Retail Council of Canada and its members for taking seriously one of the most critical animal welfare issues in food production today.
“The Canadian food industry has made it clearer than ever that these unsustainable and inhumane cages have no future in pork production, and we encourage pork producers to make the transition to group housing systems as quickly as possible.”