by SUSAN MANN
As expected the draft Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Pigs includes measures to limit pork producers’ use of gestation stalls, but the wide-ranging document also recommends farmers administer pain control for various procedures and provide pigs with environmental enrichment.
The draft was released for public comment on Saturday.
Barbara Cartwright, CEO of the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, says these three important areas are a significant advancement in animal welfare. The current code doesn’t mention that injured pigs or ones experiencing pain or suffering must be treated or euthanized promptly and “now it’s just enshrined in the requirements.”
But one Ontario farmer has concerns about the Federation of Humane Societies being involved in drafting the code. Stewart Skinner, a Listowel-area pork farmer, says he finds it offensive that the humane society is part of the process.
“They’re an animal rights organization and their main directive is to destroy livestock agriculture,” he charges. “They’re going to do anything in their power to do that.”
Some of the changes outlined in the draft code could improve animal welfare but “when it’s being driven by a lobbyist group which doesn’t have the best intentions, that brings under question the real motives here,” he says.
Pork producer organizations haven’t outlined the impact of the draft code on farmers. On Monday, spokespeople at the Canadian Pork Council and Ontario Pork could not be reached for comment. Keith Robbins, Ontario Pork spokesman, noted in a May interview that the code was one topic the board planned to discuss with producers in meetings at the end of June.
Skinner predicts implementing the code will lead to higher food prices for average working Canadians. These people need food to be as affordable as possible, he says.
The draft code’s introduction says “the requirements and recommended practices in this document represent a challenging balance between animal welfare and the abilities of producers to affect change in an economically viable way.”
Cartwright says the draft code is significantly different from the current code – in place since 1993 with an early-weaned pigs addendum introduced in 2003 – in both content and structure.
How it has been developed also marks a departure from the code currently in effect. Until 2003, the Canadian Agri-Food Research Council developed the animal codes of practice. These codes were based solely on recommendations.
In 2005, the newly formed National Farm Animal Care Council assumed responsibility for the codes’ development and updated the development process.
One key difference is the codes being developed now for various commodities have requirements, “which are the baseline that industry expects and then recommendations if you want to evolve into the best practice area,” Cartwright explains.
For pigs, the draft code says as of July 1, 2024 mated gilts and sows must be housed in groups. Individual stalls can be used for up to 28 days after the date of the last breeding and an additional seven days is permitted to manage grouping. For farmers with new or rebuilt barns being used for the first time after July 1, 2014, the group-housing requirement is effective July 1, 2014.
Existing stall replacement has to be an appropriate size to allow sows to:
- Stand up at rest without simultaneously touching both sides of the stall.
- Lie down without their udders protruding into adjacent stalls.
- Stand up without simultaneously touching both ends of the stall.
- Stand up without touching the top bars.
The draft pig code says conventional gestation stalls (58-60 centimetres, 22.8-23.6 inches) may not be wide enough for larger sows to lie laterally, especially towards the end of the gestation period.
The stalls cause a great deal of “frustration and stress on the pigs,” Cartwright says, noting that finding is backed up by science.
The draft code also touched on pain control. As of July 1, 2019, castration performed at any age must be done with analgesics to help control post-procedure pain. Effective immediately, pain control must be used for piglet tail docking on animals older than one-week.
“That’s a significant advancement in animal welfare,” she says.
But Skinner disagrees. While he hasn’t read the draft code yet, Skinner says he’s reviewed scientific literature extensively and “there’s nothing conclusive saying that administering an analgesic or an anesthetic will actually improve the pig’s overall state of welfare.”
Castration is an acute pain, he notes. After the moment of pain, the pig returns to a resting state quite quickly and returns to normal behavior within a very short time of having that procedure done. But administering pain mitigation could have an adverse effect for 24 to 48 hours.
“I take issue with the fact that they’re saying that improves the welfare of the pig because there’s absolutely no scientific basis for that,” Skinner says. He notes European farmers’ experience with anesthetic for castration resulted in costs of an extra $1 per pig. That doesn’t sound like much, but in the pork business “we’re lucky if we can even make $2 or $3 per pig. More often than not, we’re losing money on our pigs,” he explains.
About environmental enrichment for pigs, Cartwright says the draft code specifies “they need to have some form of enrichment in there to help them to reduce their stress” as opposed to just being in bare cages.
Skinner says they provide enrichment toys for pigs on their farm. “It doesn’t really cost any money because you can use relatively inexpensive materials to create very simple toys for the pigs.”
Once it’s finalized, the code will be voluntary, Cartwright says, “but it is industry’s expectations.” The question about if the code is mandatory is hard to answer, she notes.
In 2005, the Canadian Pork Council implemented a voluntary animal care assessment program based on the existing code of practice. But as of Jan. 1, 2012, the animal care assessment became a requirement of the pork industry’s on-farm food safety program, CQA (Canadian Quality Assurance).
The 62-page draft code document covers a wide range of topics, including feeding, watering, lighting, temperature, air quality, flooring, bedding, sanitation, pest control, sick pig management, spacing requirements, breeding, emergency management, transportation, euthanasia, and outdoor housing. There are decision trees for loading animals and when to do euthanasia along with recommendations for enrichment objects.
Jackie Wepruk, general manager and project coordinator for the National Farm Animal Care Council, says in the past codes were written in a more narrative fashion. But this one explicitly outlines what the requirements are and what the recommendations are.
The 17-person code development committee included farmers, animal welfare and enforcement representatives, researchers, processors, transporters, veterinarians and government officials. The committee has been working on the code since 2010.
Wepruk says for the first time ever the pig code of practice includes an accompanying scientific committee peer-reviewed report that outlines the key matters for pig welfare. It has been released as part of the draft code. “People can look at what the science actually says.”
The public comment period for the draft code ends Aug. 3. Online commenting is available. As of Sunday afternoon, 56 comments had been received.
Wepruk says “I’m expecting this will probably be our busiest code in terms of feedback through the public comment period.”
The public comment period is also something new in the code of practice development process, she says. Previously codes were never available for public comment.
She urged people to submit constructive feedback that the code development committee can use to improve the code. The code development committee will review the comments and the final code will be released later this year. BF