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Pork council backs bid to end hog-crate use

The controversial practice of using gestational crates for hogs is being reduced, whether because of a commitment by eight major grocery chains in the country or a recommendation by the Manitoba Pork Council.

The Retail Council of Canada said Tuesday that Walmart Canada, Costco Canada, Metro, Loblaw, Safeway Canada, Federated Co-operatives, Sobey's and Co-op Canada have all agreed to get their pork only from hog producers who don't use gestational crates by 2022.

Karl Kynoch, a hog producer and chairman of the Manitoba Pork Council, which represents the province's hog producers, said Wednesday it has already "committed to encouraging producers to phase them out by 2025."

Kynoch said it's because some facilities were built to handle the current stall layout and manure removal.

"We are encouraging them, not telling them," he said. "We are being responsible to inform the producers what the market place directs. Ninety-eight per cent of pigs raised in Manitoba are raised in groups already.

"People don't realize that."

But it's the gestational crates for pregnant sows that has given a black eye to the industry.

The use of the gestational crates caused controversy across the country last year after the Mercy for Animals Canada group released video footage it took with a hidden camera inside a Puratone hog plant in the province's Interlake area.

The video showed "thousands of pregnant pigs crammed into filthy, metal gestation crates barely larger than their own bodies," the group said in a statement on Tuesday.

Because of the reaction, the grocery store chains through the retail council said in a statement it will be working with the Canadian Pork Council and the National Farm Animal Care Council in the next few years to source "fresh pork products from sows raised in alternative housing practices."

Laurie Connor, head of the animal science department and a professor in the University of Manitoba's faculty of agricultural and food sciences, said she has almost completed research into helping farmers move sows from gestational crates to group housing.

Connor said while the method was developed in the 1960s and 1970s to separate sows from being injured and making sure they were fed properly, "times have changed.

"We understand now that having an animal in a stall for a full pregnancy --about four months -- also has an effect on muscle tone and strength. She's not as strong and she takes longer in labour and giving birth."

But Connor said putting the sows into group housing also has risks and challenges because pigs have hierarchies with dominant and follower animals.

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