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duBreton to boost output of crate-free pigs

Reuters — Private Canadian pork producer duBreton said Thursday it plans to raise 300,000 additional pigs during the next three years without housing them in crates, as it seeks premium prices from food stores and restaurants for meat raised humanely.

Larger Canadian rivals Olymel and Maple Leaf Foods are already converting all of their own barns to crate-free, or open housing, by 2022 and 2017 respectively, company spokesmen said.

Conventional farms keep breeding sows in crates that measure two feet by seven feet, preventing them from turning around. Raising pigs crate-free means they can roam in a communal environment.

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Other parts of the food production chain are also under pressure from consumers to raise animals more humanely. McDonald’s pledged this month to phase out eggs laid by caged hens within a decade.

It costs 50 per cent more to raise pigs without crates, but producers command higher prices to more than make up for it, duBreton president Vincent Breton said in an interview.

He said duBreton guarantees the farms from which it buys crate-free hogs their cost of production plus a margin.

“We think it is important for the smaller farm to have a niche to survive,” he said. “It brings the lows of the market out of the equation.”

The increase in crate-free production is expected to cost duBreton $30 million. Its customers include grocers Whole Foods Market and Empire Co.’s Sobeys, as well as Chipotle Mexican Grill.

The Quebec-based company currently slaughters about one million pigs per year at Riviere-du-Loup, Quebec. Breton declined to say how many of those pigs currently come from crate-free farms.

Rod Nickel is a Reuters correspondent covering the agriculture and mining sectors from Winnipeg.

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