Pork producers reeling after hog barn footage aired

Exception Farmers say the undercover footage of a Manitoba hog operation isn’t a fair representation of the industry

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Video shot by an undercover animal rights activist at a Manitoba hog barn unfairly depicts animal care practices, farm groups say.

Featured on CTV’s W5 program, the grainy footage shows sows in gestation stalls, castration, tail docking, a cull sow being repeatedly shot with a captive bolt and piglets being slammed into cement floors.

But what it doesn’t feature is a balanced look at the industry, said Manitoba Pork Council (MPC) chairman Karl Kynoch.

“The images that were shown on W5 were very bad — they are going to be horrifying for a lot of the public,” he said. “But you have to remember that video was taken over a three-month period and heavily edited.”

He said some of the images shown do not conform to the organization’s code of practice and should be investigated. He also said the operation shown is the exception, not the norm.

MPC has asked Manitoba’s chief veterinary officer to examine the video, as has Mercy for Animals, the organization that filmed the hogs using a camera hidden on an employee at Interlake Weanlings in Arborg this summer. That footage, along with footage from other hog operations outside of the province, became the basis for the CTV program that aired nationally Dec. 8.

Kynoch said MPC staff and researchers were made available to CTV journalists, but that little of the information provided made it to air. “I don’t believe the footage was balanced,” he said.

Neither did a panel of experts from The Centre for Food Integrity that reviewed the footage.

Dr. Robert Friendship of the University of Guelph points to claims of murky drinking water as unhealthy made in the program as one example of misleading footage. “That’s actually feed in the water and pigs like that,” said Friendship. “That isn’t hurting the animal at all.”

Although some of the footage, such of castration and tail docking, may be disturbing for viewers not accustomed to these practices, Dr. Laurie Conner of the University of Manitoba said the squeals of the pigs can’t necessarily be attributed to pain and suffering.

“It appears to me the pig is squealing just as much because it is being held upside down or because it is being restrained,” said Connor, adding that the industry is looking into things such as using analgesics to make the procedure less painful.

However, some of the practices shown didn’t meet the standards of the panel, including the euthanization of piglets by slamming them into metal posts.

Mercy for Animals also sent the footage to humane slaughter expert, Temple Grandin, who is quoted in the W5 program as saying “blunt force trauma” as a means of euthanizing piglets should be phased out.

Focus on stalls

Much of the organization’s documentation focused on the use of gestation stalls, which Mercy for Animals said is institutionalized cruelty.

“We promote a milk-, egg- and meat-free diet, but realize that isn’t possible for all people, and so we want to see these animals raised humanely in a group housing situation, with straw bedding,” said the organization’s director Twyla Francois during a press conference in Winnipeg Dec. 10.

Gestation stalls are already banned in the U.K., Sweden and several U.S. states and as of Jan. 2013 will be outlawed throughout the European Union.

Manitoba Pork Council has said it intends to help producers phase out gestation stalls by 2025. Maple Leaf Foods, which is in the process of purchasing the featured barn as part of its acquisition of Puratone assets, is on the record as phasing out stalls by 2017.

Francois said she doesn’t believe the industry is sincere about making the move to group housing and it takes shocking exposés to motivate industry and consumers.

However, the organization does not intend to lobby for financial assistance for producers so that they can make a more rapid transition to group housing, which MPC estimates will cost an industry already suffering financial troubles between $500 and $600 per sow.

“We’re moving forward to phase out the gestation stalls, and we’re actually pouring a lot of dollars into research on that right now,” said Kynoch. “We want to make sure we do it in the best possible way to make sure this is a step forward for animal welfare.”

Mercy for Animals said it hopes that the video will encourage consumers to demand grocery stores like Metro, Sobeys and Walmart to provide gestation-stall-free pork.

About the author

Reporter

Shannon VanRaes is a journalist and photojournalist with the Manitoba Co-operator. She has previously reported for the the Metros, Winnipeg Sun, Outwords Magazine and the Portage Daily Graphic.

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