Pictured: A mother pig kept in a sow stall.

Canada’s Code of Practice for the care and handling of pigs is up for review and public comment



Mother pigs will be housed in sow stalls for five years longer than expected, but the industry is working to phase out these cruel confinement systems.

Pigs are highly intelligent, social beings, so when we think of them confined to a stall or ‘gestation crate’ – a housing system barely larger than their body where they don’t have room to even turn around – we feel shocked and outraged at the suffering this must cause.

The good news is, in Canada, the pork industry is phasing out this cruel system in favour of ‘group housing’, where sows will live in pens with other sows, giving them a chance to socialize and space to move around. Here’s a recap of how this came to be:

  • In 2013, Canadian consumers moved the Retail Council of Canada (RCC) to commit to improve the welfare of pregnant pigs by raising them in group and pen housing by the end of 2022.
  • A multi-stakeholder Code Development Committee updated the Code of Practice for the care and handling of pigs in 2014, in accordance with the National Farm Animal Care Council’s (NFACC) Code development process, which required farmers to adopt group housing for breeding sows (mother pigs) by 2024.
  • Codes are updated every 10 years, with reviews conducted every five years. As part of the five-year review process, a Code Technical Panel (CTP) issued a report which proposes several amendments to the Code, including a five-year extension, to 2029, for the pork industry to transition mother pigs to group housing, citing economic and other challenges.

The RCC is a member of NFACC, and these commitments reflect both the best animal welfare science and how Canadians feel about this issue (92% of Canadians believe it's important that pigs are reared in conditions with high welfare standards).

Taking another step back, it might be shocking to hear that there are essentially no laws in Canada to protect farm animals. Instead, the government defers this responsibility to NFACC which develops Codes of Practice for the care and handling of farm animals. Requirements in the Codes “may be enforceable under federal and provincial regulation” but only in provinces where the Codes are cited in animal cruelty laws.

World Animal Protection is one of two welfare organizations (along with Humane Canada) that are members of NFACC (28 voting members total). This gives us an opportunity to work with NFACC stakeholders (scientists, vets, government, enforcement and the farming industry) to develop Codes of Practice that provide requirements for on-farm animal care.

This process isn’t perfect, nor are the Codes,  but being at the table to give a voice to animal welfare is an important opportunity. The Codes are sometimes a compromise between animal welfare and industry interests, the latter of which may be a mix of welfare, practical considerations, and economics.

Overview of the Code amendments

We were expecting Canada to phase out sow stalls starting in 2022 and completely by 2024. But we recently found out that change is going to take more time. On Monday, as part of the five-year review process, the NFACC review committee announced a delay in the transition to group housing from 2024 to 2029, citing economic and other challenges.

The delay is disappointing to say the least, as it means many sows will be stuck in stalls for five more years. The good news is that the industry has already transitioned 1/3 of its mother pigs to group housing, and by 2024 they expect to have 2/3 of mother pigs out of sow stalls.

The industry is making moves because they know that this is what Canadians want – high welfare standards. We have to keep the pressure on to make sure that farm animal standards reflect Canadian values.

Other changes that have come about because of the pig Code’s five-year review include:

  • mandatory training in animal behaviour and humane handling for anyone working with animals;
  • annual reporting on the transition to group housing; and
  • removing a loophole that permitted producers to keep mother pigs sows in stalls provided they were given ‘periodic exercise’.

The review committee also identified important issues for the 2024 full Code update which include:

  • better enrichment for pigs;
  • pain management for surgical procedures; and
  • more space for pigs to move around.

Take action – Public Comment Period for the pig Code amendment

The Code amendments resulting from the review will be open for public comment until November 19. We encourage you to submit comments on the changes as well as express your opinion on other important welfare issues. Below is some guidance but feel free to include other comments on issues important to you:

Encourage the pork industry to continue its progress towards group housing for sows;

Tell the industry:

  • While sows are still in stalls, they should be provided with good quality enrichment on a regular basis to help mitigate the negative impacts to their welfare from sow stalls.
  • “Blunt force trauma” as an acceptable euthanasia method to piglets should be removed from the code ASAP. This amendment period is an opportune time to do that.

For the upcoming 2024 Code update, urge the industry to make these changes to the Code:

  • requirement for straw or a similar material for all pigs;
  • a shortened time frame post-insemination that sows can be kept in stalls (35 days is too long);
  • ensure all pigs have adequate space to move around in their pens where they don’t feel crowded by other animals (require minimum space allowances);
  • end painful procedures of tail-docking, ear notching, teeth-clipping and castration; and
  • ban the use of electric prods on farms.

View the full Code review report on the NFACC website here.

Proposed amendments to the pig Code will be open for a 60-day Public Comment Period (PCP) from September 21, 2020 – November 19, 2020.

Submit your comment to the NFACC Code Amendment Committee here.


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