The national code of practice for pigs is expected to be finalized this spring, after one more committee meeting and just before federal funding expires.
The code was originally scheduled for release in 2013, but pig producer opposition to draft code requirements for a transition to open sow housing was a major reason for postponement.
Producers argued that the expense of expanding or altering barns without any guarantee of recovering those expenses made the requirement impractical. They also said there was no proof open sow housing enhanced animal welfare.
However, animal activist groups lobbied for an end to gestation stalls for pregnant sows, which they said are too confining and do not allow pigs to express natural behaviour.
About 4,700 responses were received during a public comment period over the draft pig code, which was open from June 1 to Aug. 3.
“That one is probably the most challenging of all the codes that we’ve worked on because of the particularly heightened public attention that that industry is facing, but we actually see the light at the end of the tunnel for that code and we are talking about having that one out before this project ends in March,” said National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC) executive director Jackie Wepruk.
The codes of practice for several species of livestock are being updated under the guidance of the NFACC, which released its fifth code of practice, the one for care and handling of sheep, Dec. 18.
Funding for the livestock code updates, many of which have not been changed for decades, was provided through the federal Growing Forward 2 program.
The current round of funding expires in March, but Wepruk said the NFACC has applied for additional money so it can complete the layer code and the poultry meat bird code, which includes broilers, turkeys and hatching egg birds.
“The industries for both those codes are anxious to continue work and they don’t want to lose that momentum,” Wepruk said.
She said code committees members, including producers, veterinarians, researchers, animal welfare groups and government officials, have proven to be dedicated despite facing what was probably more than many bargained for initially.
“Animal welfare is very emotional and it’s good that it’s emotional,” she said. “It’s important because it means that we all care, but when we’re trying to understand each other, we need to make sure that the emotion doesn’t get in the way of hearing and listening. I think that’s what we’ve tried to create in the code process: a way for that constructive dialogue to happen.”