Big changes in new pig code

The new (draft) Canadian pig code it out an it addresses all the major issues that have gripped the hog industry in recent years.

Basically to me the big bits are:

1) All gestation stalls for pregnant sows should be gone by 2024;

2) All new barns after July 1, 2014 should use open housing for gestating stalls.

3) Sows can be kept in stalls for 28 days after insemination, plus up to seven more days as they are moved into open housing;

4) Blunt trauma as a form of euthanasia, including “piglet thumping,” is allowed; killing piglets with gunshots to the head is banned;

5) Hogs will still be able to be transported long distances;

6) Tail docking and castration are still allowed, but with greater provision for pain control;

7) Tooth removal should only be done for aggressive piglets causing damage to others;

8) Boars can’t be purposely injured in order to stop them fighting during transport to the slaughter plant;

Those to me are the big newsy issues that are being addressed.

There are also myriad – and perhaps more important issues – discussed in the draft code, the sorts of things that can cost farmers lots of money, such as per-pig space allowances that affect barn design and cost.

There is now a 60 day comment period before the code is finalized, so if you’ve got something to say about it, to tell it at the appropriate place.

My quick first take on this code revision is that it seems to address the main issues causing controversy for the industry and deals with them in a sensible, reasonable, scientifically-based manner. From the research and coverage I’ve done in recent years, it seems reasonable to me to suggest that commercial hog production can and should be done with open housing as it has been with stalls. And from interviewing many vets and animal welfare experts, allowing the continuation of piglet thumping, castration and tail docking all seems justified on both scientific and animal welfare grounds.

Some farmers are going to go ballistic at (if this draft is approved) having to move into open housing in a few years, but to me and to many, many people in the industry, this has seemed inevitable for years and shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. People like Florian Possberg, the head of the committee that developed this draft code, have hinted pretty clearly that these changes were likely in the new code, so today I find myself unsurprised by anything in the code – other than piglet thumping being allowed.

I’m actually pleasantly surprised by the thumping allowance, because from a bunch of interviews I did after W5’s expose of a Puratone barn in December, I got the sense that most veterinary and informed animal welfare experts consider thumping – if done right – probably the best and least stress-causing method of euthanizing a young piglet. It looks terrible and horrifies the common citizenry, but is actually the most humane way to put down a piglet, other than a lethal injection of drugs – which is also supported by the new code. The draft code’s support of both thumping and open housing suggests to me that the committee members, which were from retailers, consumers, farmers, and welfare organizations, were unafraid to upset farmers, as with going against gestation stalls, and also unafraid to upset animal rights activists or consumers, as with thumping. They seem to have put together a code that is mostly focused on providing a commercial hog industry that can both feasibly produce a pig while giving it a decent life.

I might have missed a whole bunch about it. My colleague Barb Glen, our Livestock section editor and Lethbridge reporter, is looking into some of the more dollars-and-cents issues that will hit farmers, such as the space allowances. In the end, these issues will probably be the most important for farmers, because for all the chatter about open housing and euthanasia methods, the practical matters of how to actually operate the barns and production systems of the future are what is going to determine whether farmers will actually be able to make money in the industry of the future.

But right now I predict that this code will meet broad industry, public, welfare organization and consumer acceptance.

(I like occasionally laying out predictions because if I’m dead wrong, I want there to be a clear record of that, as this post will be.)

Perhaps when I’m down at the World Pork Expo this coming week I’ll discover the code is a disaster for some reason, but right now it all seems to be something that can work.

If I’m dead wrong, or partially wrong, or whatever, let me know.



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