New hog codes of practice will come with price

Minimum standards set | The code will cost hog producers as they retrofit barns from stalls to group housing

Revised codes of practice for hog production are expected to be released by the end of next year.

The scientific report has been made public, and the committee’s draft will be completed by the end of the year and ready for public consultation and feedback by early next year.

Most items will take effect a year after the codes are released.

“One of the more important things is we’re establishing a minimum standard that is going to form the basis for all set evaluations of our operations in Canada,” Dr. Harold Gonyou, an animal scientist with the Prairie Swine Centre in Saskatoon, told the Swine Industry Symposium in Saskatoon Nov. 13-14.

“So if a problem comes up, we have something to go back and say, ‘this is our standard, does it meet it or doesn’t it meet it.’ ”

Gonyou, a member of the scientific team who was also chosen to represent the code development committee, said the existing 15-year-old code of practice didn’t have mandatory standards.

The Canada Pork Council asked that the code be revised so that it could be used as a basis for standards for its animal care assessment program.

Gonyou said scientific input for the codes of practice included discussions with many stakeholders.

“We’re achieving that standard by which we live by,” he said.

The scientific committee studied six welfare issues: controlling pain regarding castration, methods of euthanasia, pig space allowance, gestation and sow housing, social management of sows and sow space allowance.

Gonyou said sow housing is of greatest interest to producers and consumers.

Studies show it is possible to achieve equal or better productivity and health in group systems compared to stalls. Sows housed in stalls rested less and sat and drank more than sows in groups.

Tethered sows show lower productivity and higher levels of stress than those in stalls.

Gonyou said the revised code would include caveats on group housing.

“We still want to use the stall during that first trimester because we feel with our current understanding of management, the sows will be challenged if we don’t,” he said.

“Then we’ll move to group housing during the last two trimesters of pregnancy.”

Gonyou said the new codes will bring major financial hurdles, particularly during a housing con-version.

“It’s going to cost somewhere be-tween $250 and $500 per sow to make that transition on our farms because we have to renovate those buildings,” he said.

“It’s a new design, a new management method. They have been developed, but our barns have not been built for them.”

Florian Possberg, chair of the National Farm Animal Care Council’s pig code development committee, said finding the right combination of caring for animals and still being competitive in the marketplace requires a sensitive balancing act.

“On one hand, we want to have an animal welfare position that allows us to access as many markets as possible and yet we cannot put so many conditions on our production that we are non-competitive,” he said.

“There may be premium markets out there that will pay a premium for very high animal welfare, but quite frankly most consumers buy on price in Canada. Globally, if you don’t match the best price, you’re not in the market.”

Bigger ticket items, such as retrofitting barns for sow space, will require a phase-in period and innovation money so that producers can make the appropriate changes.

Possberg said the council has asked to delay the process long enough so that market conditions can improve.

“At the end of the day, we don’t want to push our producers out of business. We want to make sure we do this in a well thought out, logical way. Not only animal welfare for our animals, but we’re not cruel to our producers either.”

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