NewStream Farm Animal Care, Volume 1, Edition 10
Ground shift on welfare: Action on sow stalls
May 8, 2013
With big players from Costco to Walmart, to Olymel and Tim Hortons weighing in, the stage is set for a transition to new approaches by the end of 2022.
It's no secret that sow stalls have been at the forefront of the animal welfare discussions swirling around livestock agriculture.
In Canada, the signals in recent months have pointed clearly to this as an area where change was going to come. The environment had shifted solidly away from 'would it happen?' to simply waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Last week it did.
The key action was the release of the Retail Council of Canada (RCC) Grocery Members' Commitment on Sow Housing, which calls for a shift to alternative sow housing by the end of 2022.
Members backing the commitment include major food retail players Co-op Atlantic, Canada Safeway, Costco Wholesale Canada, Federated Co-operatives Limited , Loblaw Companies Limited, Metro Inc., Sobeys Inc., and Walmart Canada Corp.
Flurry of activity with major implications
The move confirms a shifting of the ground on the sow stalls issue around a specific timeframe. It comes in the wake of other key recent announcements over the past month, including by Tim Hortons and Olymel, which have similarly committed to move away from the use of sow stalls by the end of 2022.
Ten talking points on Tim Hortons
May 8, 2013
The iconic company has been arguably the most aggressive among the major retail players in Canada in moving on sow stalls and hen housing
Tim Hortons has moved strongly over the past year to roll up the rim on new commitments and requirements for farm animal welfare. Livestock producers and their industries are following the developments closely to see what this means for their operations and management decisions.
To help fuel the coffee talk, here's a rundown of ten of the key elements shaping the Timmy's approach.
1. Make it a 'double double.' Two of the greatest lightning rods in the farm animal welfare debate have been the issues of gestation stalls for sows and space allowance in housing systems for hens. Tim Hortons has tackled both at once.
2. Getting out in front. The company shifted boldly ahead one year ago with its May, 2012 announcement of "Major Initiatives to Improve Animal Welfare for Pigs and Chickens." It called upon the pork industry and its suppliers to by end of the year develop plans and timeframes to eliminate gestation stalls. It also set a goal of purchasing at least 10 per cent of eggs, representing significantly more than 10 million eggs, from enriched hen housing systems by the end of 2013.
3. Preferred sourcing. The company stated intentions to give preferred sourcing to pork suppliers who have clearly documented plans to phase-out the use of gestation stalls, and egg suppliers working to phase-in enriched hen housing systems.
Analysis: Lessons behind the headlines
May 8, 2013
Agriculture needs to read the signals and continue to step up its game in communicating and building relationships with stakeholders, says UBC's Dr. Dan Weary
Dr. Dan Weary is associate dean and professor with the University of British Columbia Animal Welfare Program.
What do the actions by grocers and other retail players mean for livestock producers and their industry?
For starters, the implications of these moves go far beyond the specific issue of gestations stalls for sows, says Dr. Dan Weary of the University of British Columbia's Animal Welfare Program.
"People working in animal agriculture need to realize that this story affects their industry," says Weary. "This touches everyone. It's a broader reflection of the general public becoming more interested in where their food comes from and more willing to speak out when practices fail to live up to their expectations. Retailers are hearing this message from their clients, and changing their buying practices to meet this demand. This is the new reality farm animal agriculture today."
New world of expectations
Part of the dynamic is the clash between the pastoral image of agriculture we see on the side of the milk carton, and the realities of modern production systems, says Weary, a Professor and NSERC Industrial Research Chair in Animal Welfare. "When people find out that standard practices – like the use of stalls for pregnant sows – do not correspond to their vision for how these animals are reared, they begin to lose trust in agriculture and demand quality assurance programs from the retailer."
Yellow light for Calgary Co-op
May 8, 2013
The retailer is moving forward cautiously and plans to consult with key organizations such as Alberta Pork
With the spike in media attention and call-in show fodder slowly leveling off following the Calgary Co-op resolution on sow stalls and poultry cages, the retailer is carefully looking ahead at what this means and how it moves forward.
It finds itself in a unique set of circumstances. Calgary Co-op is one of the largest retail co-operatives in North America, with more than 44,000 members and annual sales of more than $1 billion. Under its cooperative structure, Co-op members can put forward resolutions at the AGM which if passed are moved on to the company Board of Directors.
The resolution on "cage free" pork and eggs – passed by a vote of 97-67 – is a non-binding one so the board is only required to examine the issue and report back its findings. However, spokespeople for the retailer say the typical approach is to look for ways to meet the members' wishes.
Darcy Fitzgerald, Executive Director, Alberta Pork
Calgary Co-op management has said it will now work with Federated Co-operatives Ltd. as well as producer groups to examine the options.
Alberta Pork weighs in
One of the key producer groups involved in the discussion is Alberta Pork. Executive Director Darcy Fitzgerald tells NewStream Farm Animal Care the organization wants to be part of the dialogue, to represent the interests of its producer members and support that any steps taken align with the proactive steps already underway by industry.
May 8, 2013
Quick takes on key activity and what's coming, from NewStream editors
What we can learn from Spain's sow transition?
Speakers at the Swine Breeding Workshop in Edmonton, Alta. gave a look into the window of the experience of Spain's hog industry transitioning away from sow stalls.
The annual workshop, hosted by the University of Alberta, brings together producers, researchers, government and other industry players. This year's theme, "Alternative sow housing and breeding management" had a strong overview of animal welfare.
A report on the Spanish pork industry provided an interesting perspective for the North American industry considering similar action. Spain is just in the process of the transition from stalls. Success depends a lot on management, and there have been struggles with making the conversions work. Some Spanish producers who adapted barns to new sow housing ended up with marginal production facilities that had a whole range of production issues from improper lighting, to cleanliness issues, to inadequate feeding systems and general animal protection problems.
The undercurrent is that many producers are being forced to adapt to survive. The country, reeling under financial issues, has lots of issues for their citizens to care about other than pork producers. Changes to production systems were not being monitored as a result, leaving animals the losers in many cases in the shift.
Spain, which has more sows than Canada and a high per capita rate of pork consumption, is far from a marginal player in the global pork industry. The challenges of who is responsible for monitoring changes was not lost on the Edmonton audience. Government personnel said they are already getting question from the public asking if changes are made to production systems, who is responsible for monitoring the changes to ensure they are being done properly.
Animal welfare moving to front burner of beef industry discussion
Dr. Claire Windeyer
Farm animal care is a hot topic in the beef industry and will be a top focus at the University of Calgary Veterinary Medicine (UCVM) Beef Cattle Conference, June 20-21 in Calgary.
"When we looked at the major issues that are critical for the industry, there's no question animal welfare has become a big topic, says Dr. Claire Windeyer, a UCVM Assistant Professor who is co-chair of the conference organizing committee. "That's true both within the industry and also among everyone from consumers to society in general who are increasingly looking inside our window."
Bruce Feinberg Senior Director, Worldwide Quality for McDonald's Corporation headlines the animal care component of the program, which includes a range of speakers on everything from the big picture challenges and opportunities to specific applied knowledge that give producers new options today. Local experts including Dr. Nathan Erickson from Veterinary Agri-Health Services and Dr. Joe Stookey from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine will also be providing lots of practical information on pain management and on-farm animal care.
"We hear a lot about the importance of telling our story in agriculture," says Windeyer. "Certainly we hear that message often when it comes to animal welfare. But if we're going to engage more we also need to know where we stand and where we're headed. We need to be ready for that conversation. That's going to be one of the topics for discussion at the conference. Bruce is one speaker we are particularly excited about because he will bring a valuable perspective as McDonald's global representative for animal health and welfare topics."
The conference is intended for beef producers, their advisors, and everyone involved in the beef industry, she says. Current disease issues, and nutrition and health will also be covered during the two days. Get full program details here. University of Calgary is a board member of Alberta Farm Animal Care.
FutureWatch: Mindset 'we're all in welfare' key to industry success
Within agriculture there is increasing talk about how there are more animal welfare people getting involved in the industry. This includes more veterinarians who have an animal care specialty focus as well as graduates in a range of areas who are championing animal care expertise and innovation as lead parts of what they have to offer.
All that is great, says Dr. Joe Stookey, but a message he would look to see more front and center is that everyone involved in animal agriculture is in fact in animal welfare. Everyone from vets to researches to producers to other parts of the supply chain needs that mentality.
"We're all in this," says Stookey, a researcher and professor of animal behavior at the University of Saskatchewan. "We should all be thinking it and all be engaged in the discussion. In my faculty for example, I get known as the welfare guy and anything with welfare or animal care gets passed on to me, but really I tell my colleagues all of us should be up on this. All of us have a role and the more engagement we have the better we'll be at supporting the industry and leading it into the future."