Maple Leaf to improve animal welfare at poultry facility

Maple Leaf Foods is expanding its Edmonton poultry processing facility, investing roughly $28 million in technology to improve animal welfare.

The 26,000 sq. foot expansion, which is slated to be complete by the end of 2019, will include implementation of controlled atmosphere stunning technology, which is considered to be a more humane system that ensures birds are fully unconscious before processing.

To implement the new technology, Maple Leaf plans to convert its receiving area, as well as its transportation, lairage and handling systems.

The change means the birds will be able to rest comfortably in a climate-controlled environment, which ensures temperatures, air quality and lighting are favourable, the company said in a news release.

“Controlled atmosphere stunning provides many advantages to animal welfare, ensuring chickens are fully unconscious and humanely euthanized, while greatly reducing stress,” Dr. Greg Douglas, Maple Leaf’s vice-president of animal care, said in the release.

Maple Leaf has already installed the new technology at its pork processing facility in Manitoba.

“We are deploying world-class technologies and best practices that support our goal to eliminate stress and pain and provide humane treatment of animals in our care, while enhancing employee health and safety and food quality,” Michael McCain, chief executive officer of the company, said in the release.

As well, Maple Leaf will install a remote video auditing system at the Edmonton facility to enable the company to monitor the facility and ensure employees are complying with best animal care practices. It will be the ninth facility to have the auditing system installed.

The company is also adding a second shift at the facility to keep up with high demand. It said poultry is the most consumed meat in Canada and the market for it continues to expand.

Jason Born, chair of the Alberta Chicken Producers board, said Maple Leaf’s investment in improving animal welfare is good for the industry.

“Producers take the welfare of our livestock seriously, so to see that maintained through the value chain is positive,” he said. “This will be new for Alberta, so we’re excited to see the outcomes from a welfare perspective.”

He added that chicken farmers have also undertaken initiatives to improve animal welfare on their farms. One includes participating in a mandatory third-party audit to ensure compliance.

“I think we all want to make sure we’re on top of our game,” he said.

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