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Revised pig code of practice open for comment

The latest draft of a revised Canadian code of practice for the care and handling of pigs will need “informed, rational and constructive input” from the hog farmers who’ll be carrying out the code’s recommendations.

That’s the view from hog producer Florian Possberg, who chaired the National Farm Animal Care Council’s (NFACC) code development committee, as the new draft code was released Saturday for a public comment period to run from June 1 to Aug. 3.

Once comments from producers, consumers and other members of the public are considered, a final version of the code of practice is to be released by the end of this year, NFACC said in a release.

In its current form, a hog producer who expects to follow the code of practice would have to adopt a group housing model for gestation sows in any barn built, rebuilt or brought into use for the first time starting July 1, 2014. Then, effective July 1, 2024, all hog holdings would have to follow group housing and stall size provisions.

Also, producers seeking to follow the code on hog castration, as of July 1, 2019, would be required to use analgesic to help control post-procedure pain in hogs at any age, while castration performed on pigs 14 days of age or older would have to be done with anesthetic and analgesic.

The code also recommends producers use a licensed veterinarian to castrate pigs weighing over 51 pounds (23 kg).

Also, tail docking of pigs over seven days of age would have to be done with pain control; producers would also have to “evaluate the need to clip piglets’ teeth.”

The draft code, now available online, comes with a scientific committee report which the code development committee used in its discussions, summarizing research conclusions on “priority” welfare topics for pigs, NFACC noted. That peer-reviewed report “should be reviewed prior to making a submission,” the council said.

The code process “provides an important opportunity for advancing farm animal welfare policy in Canada,” said Geoff Urton, the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies’ representative on NFACC. “We hope to receive broad input from the general public, industry and other stakeholders to ensure this code improves animal welfare and reflects the values of Canadians.”

“Sufficient space”

The draft code’s proposed requirement on housing — that mated gilts and sows be housed in groups, starting in July 2024 — allows for the use of individual stalls for up to 28 days after the date of last breeding, and an additional period of up to seven days would be allowed, “to manage grouping.”

Individual stalls used past that date would have to be sized to allow sows to stand up at rest in a stall without simultaneously touching both sides of the stall; to lie down without their udders protruding into adjacent stalls; to stand up without touching the top bars; and to stand in a stall without simultaneously touching both ends of the stall.

Farrowing crates, meanwhile, are recognized as helping to reduce crushing of piglets during and soon after farrowing — but producers are “encouraged,” under the draft code, to consider systems that permit sows the opportunity for more freedom of movement after five to 10 days of lactation.

Past that, “close restriction of the sow beyond this time is of little or no benefit to the litter.” Sows, the draft code says, “must not be kept in farrowing crates for more than six weeks in any one reproductive cycle, except in exceptional circumstances.”

The draft code also requires that boars, as of July 1, 2024, must be provided with “sufficient space so that they can stand, turn around, and lie comfortably in a natural position.”

The code recommends boars be housed in pens large enough for them to easily turn around, and constructed in such a way that allows for boars’ visual contact with other pigs.

The CFHS, for one, hails the new draft code as a “significant step forward,” particularly on the issue of gestation stalls.

“The animal welfare science has shown that when confined in sow stalls, pigs experience extreme stress and frustration because they are unable to turn around or express natural behaviours,” CFHS CEO Barbara Cartwright said in a separate release. “It’s like being stuck in an airline seat for your life.”

Space per pig

The draft code also charts out a formula for the amount of space per pig required in a given pen, factoring in the pigs’ body weight and body surface area.

The formula’s floor space allowance factor, or “k-value,” is set in the code at k=0.0335, with variations for temperature, type of flooring and group size.

Put more generally, the code recommends that hog producers increase their space allowances per animal per pen, so that “all pigs can lie laterally at the same time.”

The draft code allows for a “short-term decrease in space allowance” if need be at the end of the production phase, of up to 15 per cent for nursery pigs and up to 10 per cent for grower/finisher pigs. Decreases of up to 20 per cent for nursery pigs and up to 15 per cent for grower/finisher pigs are allowed in those cases “only if it is demonstrated that the higher densities do not compromise the welfare of the animals.”

“Available and accepted”

Dr. Carol Morgan, the CFHS’ representative to the code committee, added in the federation’s separate release that the draft code “outlines pain control measures for castration and tail docking which are some of the most progressive in the world, beating out Australia, Germany and the U.K.”

However, Morgan noted, Europe is on track to phase out castration completely by 2018. “That’s the ideal solution, but meat processors in Canada refuse to accept uncastrated males,” she said. “It’s a problem with processors, not producers.”

Pigs in Canada are typically castrated before weaning to control “boar taint” — an unpleasant odour and taste — in meat and to reduce aggression and handling challenges associated with intact males. The draft code recommends that hog farmers consider using “non-surgical methods” once those are “available and accepted in Canadian markets.”

The draft code also recommends that producers consider marketing intact males where lighter market weights are accepted, as boar taint is less often an issue at lighter weights. — Network

Related stories:
Major grocers jointly pledge stall-free pork by 2022, April 30, 2013
Tim Hortons expects stall-free pork by 2022, April 4, 2013
Olymel joins move back from gestation crates, March 22, 2013

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