New hog codes address issues of concern

Canada’s new pig code of practice, which supports open housing for sows, better anesthesia, and recommendations on humane killing, is not expected until late spring.


That’s too late to address the present controversy stirred up by an animal rights organization and a national TV news program. But it should set up the industry for a future free of some of the frequent criticisms it has faced, developers say.


“It’s a 20-year-old code now and there are certainly issues that are being revised,” said researcher Jennifer Brown of the Prairie Swine Centre, who has been consulted during the laborious code-revising process. “The new code will have a big impact for sure.”


The code has been getting revised for years, but its official draft won’t likely be out until April or May, said Florian Possberg, chair of the Canadian Swine Health Board and overseer of the process.


“We’ve been trying to achieve consensus on everything and often that means making everyone equally mad at you,” said Possberg about the code revision, which includes everyone from humane societies to farmers to packers to regulators.


“It can’t be done quickly.”


The code was originally expected to be released by fall 2012, but it will take most of a year longer than expected. Possberg said one of the reasons for the slow revision is the “transformative” nature of many of the new code’s requirements and recommendations.


The code’s specifics, which Possberg would not detail, are expected by industry experts contacted during its development to include either a requirement or recommendation that all future hog production involve open housing of gestating sows, rules or recommendation for the general use of anesthetic for castration and tail-docking, and clarity on preferred method of piglet and adult pig euthanasia. 


The code is also expected to include requirements or recommendations for pig pens to contain elements of “enrichment,” such as toys or straw.


The draft code is presently being written and will then be translated into French, re-edited then released. The scientific reports on subjects like open housing, anesthesia and euthanasia are already publicly available.


Possberg said the code will alter many existing industry practices.


“It’s very, very comprehensive and it will be moving our industry into current times,” said Possberg.


“It will require a lot of investment by producers.”


The anesthesia recommendations will also require new medications to gain regulatory approval. Some painkillers that are available for veterinary use on pets can’t be used for food animals because of food safety laws.


Gary Stordy, spokesperson for the Canadian Pork Council, said the industry is prepared for the move to open housing that is likely to be recommended in the new code.


“The industry is looking for ways to produce more freedom of movement for sows,” said Stordy.


“How to manage to a change to group housing is being addressed.”


Brown said the code will recognize the need to convert the industry from stalls to open pens in a manner that is practical, affordable and doesn’t decrease the animals’ welfare.


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