This is part of a series on Cruelty Free Supply Chains.
The eight largest Canadian supermarket chains will phase out sow gestation crates from their supply chains by 2022. The supermarket chains that made this commitment include Co-op Atlantic, Canada Safeway, Costco Wholesale Canada, Federated Co-operatives Limited , Loblaw Companies Limited, Metro Inc., Sobeys Inc. and Walmart Canada Corp. The Canadian supermarket chains are joining many other companies who, for the past few years, have made pledges to phase sow gestation crates out of their supply chains.
There is a very good reason why Canada’s largest supermarket chains made the pledge: sow gestation crates are about two feet wide, so small that the pigs can’t turn around in them or take more than one step. Breeding pigs are confined in them for almost all of their lives. The Humane Society of the U.S. is adamantly opposed to gestation crates, and says about them, “Due to the duration and severity of their confinement, these pigs’ suffering is among the worst of all factory-farmed animals.”
Sayara Thurston, campaigner with Humane Society International/Canada, said about the announcement by the Retail Council of Canada, “We applaud the Retail Council of Canada and its members for taking seriously one of the most critical animal welfare issues in food production today.”
The Retail Council of Canada, a non-profit group representing over 45,000 stores of all retail formats, made the announcement about the Canadian supermarkets a few weeks ago. The Retail Council is working with the National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC) and the Canadian Pork Council to update the Pig Codes of Practice, which will be released for public comment on June 1, 2013. The NFACC lists “priority welfare issues” on its website for the Pig Code of Practice update which include sow housing and pig space allowance.
The Retail Council of Canada’s position on sow housing is that the animals “should be housed in an environment where their pregnancy, health and well-being are taken into highest consideration; and that the selection of sow housing be based on a combination of sound science, stakeholder expectations and the long term viability of the industry.”
The Humane Society is not the only one that is opposed to sow gestation crates. A report by the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production recommends phasing out “all intensive confinement systems that restrict natural movement and normal behaviors,” including sow gestation crates.
Viable alternatives to gestation crates exist. A two-and-a-half year long study by Iowa State University researchers compared group housing in hoop structures and sow gestation crates, finding that “reproductive performance can be maintained or enhanced in well-managed group housing systems.” The study also found that it makes economic sense for pig farmers to switch to more humane ways to house gestating pigs. The cost of housing gestating sows in group housing in hoop barns was $552, compared with $815 for gestation crates.