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Farm animal care takes spotlight at Banff Pork Seminar

Social pressure, Codes, opportunities for innovation among the major topics driving debate and discussion

Posted: January 28, 2014


Social pressure rising

The Banff Pork Seminar is one of the leading knowledge transfer conferences of its kind for the pork sector and it's also an indicator of the hot issues shaping the future.

Little surprise then, with a social pressure rising and a new Code of Practice set to launch that the issue of farm animal care was front and centre in many of the key speaker presentations and conference discussions.

Here is a sampling of three highlights:

1. Social pressure rising

There's no doubt social pressure has been and will continue to be on the rise, particularly in the U.S., says Dallas Hockman, Vice President, Industry Relations, with the National Pork Producers Council. This trend has signaled a new era where industry needs to adjust and realize there is far more to manage today than the traditional challenges of producing a safe, high quality, affordable product.

"There has been a major paradigm shift and no question the impact of social issues is coming to bear on us," says Hockman. "The typical equation that we once dealt with has changed. We find ourselves more and more challenged with social pressures and more of our time is now spent understanding and addressing this to protect our industry and the livelihood of our producers."


Dallas Hockman

Animal welfare is by far the focal point, he says. It has become a major issue fueled by the animal rights movement including well-resourced, sophisticated campaigns delivered by organizations such as the Humane Society of the United States.

The big obstacles today range from specific issues such as the pressure to move away from the use of gestation stalls, to the broader and more fundamental battle activists have created around perceived 'factory farms' and the ethics of meat production as a means to promote a vegetarian lifestyle.

"We have to stand up and recognize that times have changed," says Hockman. "This is not just pressure from the fringe. It's become a very serious issue we must address. The activists are engaging in many cases much faster than we are and we need to step up our game. It's no longer about just raising our product. We need to raise our voice."

2. New Code on the doorstep

Also discussed was how Canada is closing in on a major milestone to complete a new Code of Practice for the care and handling of pigs. There has been a lot of debate around this particularly on the issue of sow housing. Consensus has been reached on the new Code but details will not be officially released until it is finalized in a couple months, likely in March.


Claude Vielfaure

Producer Claude Vielfaure has been involved in the Code development process and sat on a panel discussion of the topic at Banff Pork Seminar. He was asked "In your mind what's real in this new Code that will affect producers when it hits the ground?"

"Four things were probably the most contentious around the Code development table," says Vielfaure. "Group housing. Space requirement for nursery and finishing. Euthanasia and enrichment. These were by far the hottest topics negotiated."

On sow housing the clause in the draft Code has changed significantly based on producer and industry response during a Public Comment Period. "I think with this change the result reached will keep our industry competitive and hopefully most producers will be comfortable with it."

3. Sow housing

In a breakout session on animal care, research scientist Dr. Jennifer Brown the Prairie Swine Centre delved deeper into the sow housing question, offering a perspective on what the science says on "groups or stalls."

There are both advantages and disadvantages to housing sows in stalls and groups, she says. The main advantages of stalls relate to their ability to provide individual nutrition and care to sows, and the elimination of injuries associated with aggression at mixing However, due to the restriction of sow activity in stalls, freedom of movement and the ability to perform a variety of behaviours are extremely limited.

The advantages of group housing are that sows have the opportunity to perform a broader range of behaviours and thus receive more exercise, with a range of associated health benefits. The main drawbacks of group systems are the increased incidence of sow injuries related to mixing aggression and competition at feeding which can result in uneven feed distribution.

Brown noted that many of the concerns related to group housing, such as aggression and injury, can be resolved with good system design and stockmanship.

More highights of the 2014 Banff Pork Seminar are showcased in this BPS Special Report.


Reprintable with credit. This article is available for reprint, with acknowledgement of the source as Meristem Land and Science, www.meristem.com.

Meristem is a Calgary-based communications firm that specializes in writing about western agriculture, food and land use. More articles at www.meristem.com.


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