There’s no doubt in Brent Moen’s mind that Western Hog Exchange staff accused of animal welfare violations behaved inappropriately.
“We were talking the talk, but not walking the walk,” said the chairman of the farmer-owned hog facility in Red Deer.
“We had a significant disconnect between our procedure manual and actual implementation. We broke six out of six of our written procedures.”
Last month, CTV’s W5 aired the latest undercover video from Mercy for Animals Canada, which showed workers kicking, striking, and dragging injured hogs. Since then, Western Hog Exchange has completed a third-party audit of its practices, as well as firing one employee and suspending two others for failing to follow proper handling protocols.
But hog producers who ship compromised animals should share some of the blame, Moen said at Alberta Pork’s recent annual general meeting. Sick or injured animals, including those unable to stand or move without assistance, are not supposed to be shipped. When they are, it creates major problems for hog-handling facilities, he said.
“The problems, in some cases, started at the farm, moved through the transportation processes, and ended up in our lap,” he said.
Farmers sometimes ship animals they shouldn’t in the hope they won’t be out the price of the hogs, said Moen.
“What we’ve done by making that decision is moved our problem from the farm to the transportation company,” he said. “Sometimes the trucker will say, ‘I’m not going to take that animal,’ and I’ve heard producers say, ‘Well, if you don’t want to take it, I’ll find a trucking company that will.’”
Rather than pass the problem down the supply chain, producers need to “take ownership” of their decisions, he said.
“Ask yourself a simple question: When I load a compromised animal on a truck, would I like to have a picture of myself and my family beside that animal with a message that says, ‘Yes, I made the decision to ship this to market?’” said Moen. “If you can look yourself in the mirror and say, ‘Yeah, I’ll stand by that,’ then ship the animal.”
And from now on, Western Hog Exchange will have zero tolerance for sick or injured animals shipped to the plant, he said.
“If we witness transporters bringing compromised animals into our facility, we’re going to write it up, and we’re going to send a message to the owner of the transportation company and we’re going to send a message to the farmer,” said Moen, adding other plants bill farmers for shipping compromised hogs.
“I don’t want to use a carrot and a stick, but frankly, if we can’t get significant change in attitude with a carrot, then we will move to introducing actions with a stick.”
Moen said he hopes the new policy will receive “100 per cent support” from hog producers.
“I want total co-operation because it’s critical to our industry,” he said. “As an industry, we need to demand 100 per cent compliance and become 100 per cent responsible.”
The industry can’t afford to live in a “vacuum” anymore, said Moen.
“If you want to have the ostrich approach to life and put your head in the sand, there’s only one piece of your anatomy that’s sticking up in the air.”