Maple Leaf Foods makes an industry leading commitment to improve pig welfare

05/12/2022

Most farmed animals in Canada, and worldwide, are kept in restrictive housing and isolation. But people are speaking out and some companies are reacting by taking steps to make animal welfare improvements.

By Lynn Kavanagh, our Farming Campaign Manager 

Many people are familiar with the efforts by animal protection groups to push the animal agriculture industry away from confinement housing such as battery cages for egg-laying hens and gestations crates for breeding sows. Confinement housing – which keeps animals in spaces so small they can hardly move, let alone engage in any natural behaviours – is considered by many to be one of the most egregious practices of the factory farming system. 

Throughout 2015 and 2016, we helped move companies to make life-changing commitments to phase out battery cages. This change was thanks to Canadians speaking out and urging companies to make changes. 

We’ve seen the same public outcry for improvements for pigs, and while the pork industry in Canada has committed to phase out gestation crates by 2024, progress has been slow. Recently they announced a likely delay, citing economic and management reasons, and pushed their commitment back to 2029. The industry has said about 1/3 of farms have now transitioned to group housing for their breeding sows.  

Pregnant pigs in enriched group housing in a higher welfare indoor farm

Pregnant pigs in enriched group housing in a higher welfare indoor farm.

It's certainly positive to see companies addressing these issues and making commitments, but this recent delay means that many sows will remain in gestation crates for an additional five years. It’s just the latest example of why we must keep pressuring the industry to move away from intensive farming systems and promote and help build an equitable, humane, and sustainable food system. 

Although the collective industry is delayed on their commitment, that doesn’t mean that individual companies can’t continue to make progress. In fact, Maple Leaf Foods has long had the target date of 2021 for eliminating gestation crates in its company-owned barns*. Late last year they announced the conversion to group housing is complete. What’s more, Maple Leaf’s system limits the use of gestation crates for breeding and early gestation which is still permitted and commonly used by the industry. Their system keeps sows confined for 7-9 days whereas many producers will keep sows confined for up to 35 days. This is too long and not necessary with good management practices, as Maple Leaf Foods has shown.  

* Maple Leaf Food’s company-owned barns produce approximately 40% of the pigs that the company uses annually to produce its branded pork products. Contract barns (those farms that supply pork to Maple Leaf but are not owned by the company) are not included in the 2021 timeline. We encourage Maple Leaf Foods to do more to support their contract producers to meet the same improved standards as their company-owned barns. 

The phase-out of sow stalls in Canada is one of the good news stories for farm animal welfare and companies like Maple Leaf Foods have proven that the transition can be done more quickly than what most of the industry has committed to.  

While the industrial animal agriculture industry still has a long way to go to make the system humane and sustainable, eliminating gestation crates is progress and an important improvement for the welfare of mother pigs in Canada.  

Continued improvement for pig welfare would mean a phase-out of farrowing crates (another confinement system that houses sows during birthing and nursing), a longer farrowing (nursing period) so that piglets are not pre-maturely weaned, housing for pigs that includes straw or other edible substrate, and an end to painful procedures such as castration and tail-docking.  

Transforming our global food system 

Our food system has the wrong priorities. By switching to alternative proteins and high welfare animal products we can curb these issues and even improve our food security. 

World Animal Protection is working to make this a reality by: 

  • Working across the globe to put an end to factory farming and building an equitable, humane and sustainable food system that can feed the world. 
  • Putting pressure on leading companies to reshape the food industry, move away from factory farming and promote higher welfare animal production and plant-based foods. 
  • Ensuring people have easy access to more healthy and sustainable plant-based proteins. 
  • Pushing for financial investments to be directed away from factory farming towards humane and plant-based foods. 

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