Fewer downers being shipped, says hog exchange

An undercover video showing abuse has prompted widespread changes at the hog assembly yard

The Red Deer hog assembly yard at the heart of animal abuse allegations almost two years ago has seen industry-wide improvements in animal handling.

“Since the Mercy for Animals incident, we have made significant strides in improving our level of animal care and husbandry,” said Brent Moen, chair of the Western Hog Exchange.

“And I don’t just mean our assembly yard. I would also include in that the increased attention of our trucking community, whether that be the farmers themselves or the independent truckers who haul on a contract basis.”

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Western Hog Exchange came under scrutiny in October 2014 when CTV’S W5 aired undercover footage taken at the Red Deer plant during a 10-week investigation by Mercy for Animals Canada, an animal welfare group based in Ontario. The video showed workers dragging, kicking, and striking hogs with a plastic bat.

Following the abuse allegations, Western Hog Exchange did a complete overhaul on its handling procedures and training programs to hold its staff more accountable, said Moen.

But the plant is holding producers more accountable, too.

“Some of the animals can get injured in transport. We monitor it, and if we believe that it happened in transport, there’s not much we can do,” said Moen.

“But we’re making notes on every producer’s file. If a producer is a repeat offender, then we will follow up with letters and provide them with a phone call.

“Simply sending them a letter or making a phone call does increase awareness.”

Producers understand that the entire industry is under scrutiny, “so they’re paying a lot of attention to detail,” he said.

“We have written some letters to the owners of the livestock and copied it to their transport companies to let them know we’re not happy with the way the load was received. The level of awareness has increased significantly, and frankly, the number of incidents of receiving poor-quality animals has decreased significantly as well.”

And those improvements are showing up in regular independent audits done by Dr. Jennifer Woods, a livestock-handling consultant based in Blackie.

“Last year in December, we asked Jennifer to give us a report stating how she felt things had gone over the past year, and she was very complimentary on the improvements that had been made,” said Moen, adding that audit scores, covering over a dozen categories, are “consistently improving.”

“When we look at the overall progress of our audit, that tells me we’ve got a positive improvement in our processes.”

That said, Western Hog Exchange knows that “there’s a way to go yet” within the industry, said Moen.

“I think we’ve made tremendous improvements, but it reinforces that, as an industry, we must continue to improve,” he said. “We can’t say we’re as good as we’re going to be, because that’s just not acceptable. We need to keep focusing and not let any of our producers, truckers, or employees slide backwards.”

About the author

Reporter

Jennifer Blair

Jennifer Blair is a Red Deer-based reporter with a post-secondary education in professional writing and nearly 10 years of experience in corporate communications, policy development, and journalism. She's spent half of her career telling stories about an industry she loves for an audience she admires--the farmers who work every day to build a better agriculture industry in Alberta.

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