Under pressure from restaurants, Canada farmers to give sows more space

WINNIPEG, Manitoba, March 6 Thu Mar 6, 2014 1:35pm EST

WINNIPEG, Manitoba, March 6 (Reuters) - Canadian farmers this year will stop building barns that severely limit sow movement and plan to revamp older structures within 10 years after numerous restaurant chains said they would only buy pork produced under more humane conditions.

The revised industry guidelines for handling pigs in Canada include more than 100 animal-care rules, including the phase-out by 2024 of stalls that continuously restrict sow movement, hog groups and the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies said on Thursday.

Restaurant companies including McDonald's Corp, Tim Hortons Inc and Wendy's Co have vowed to buy pork only from farms and other sources that do not use the enclosures. U.S. pork producers Smithfield Foods Inc and Hormel Foods Corp have said they are phasing out the use of such stalls in company-owned facilities.

Canada is the world's sixth-largest hog producer.

Sow stalls, or gestation crates, are typically about 7 feet long and 2 feet wide. A breeding sow is housed there for much of her adult life.

The stalls cause stress for the animals and allow them only to take a step forward or backward, possibly lie down, stand up and sit, the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies said.

The code requires Canadian farmers to build only new barns that have group housing for sows as of July 1, 2014, and also to use pain relief, effective immediately, in castration of piglets over 10 days of age.

By 2024, all other barns may not use stalls that continuously restrict sows' movement. Details of those changes will be worked out in the next five years, said Rick Bergmann, a hog farmer and vice chairman of the Manitoba Pork farm group.

"It's not a ban on stalls, just a ban on systems that restrict sow movement," Bergmann said.

Because of the changes, farmers will need training on how to operate their barns, said Canadian Pork Council spokesman Gary Stordy.

"(It's like) driving on the right side of the road your whole life and all of a sudden being asked to start driving on the left," Stordy said.

Sow stalls offer some advantages, allowing farmers to feed the pigs individually and protect them from aggressive behavior, Bergmann said.

The biggest Canadian hog farms are owned by Quebec-based Olymel Ltd, Toronto-based Maple Leaf Foods Inc and Manitoba's Hylife Ltd.

Maple Leaf spokesman Dave Bauer said the company fully supported the code's guidelines and had converted its first barn to open housing last year. This year, it plans to move 3,000 more sows to open housing.

The code has broad support in the industry, Stordy said, and failure to follow it can make it difficult for a farmer to market his or her hogs.

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