Producers fear cost of gestation stall mandate

CALGARY — Alberta pig producers say they are encouraged that their objections to mandated group sow housing seem to be gaining traction.

Group sow housing was proposed in the industry’s draft code of practice, which was released last year for public comment. It called for group housing of all Canadian sows by July 1, 2024, and use of gestation stalls for only 28 days after the last breeding.

The proposal caused controversy among producers because it would require expensive barn renovation, depending on the site involved.

The draft code contained myriad other recommendations, but the gestation stall issue became the lightning rod for both producers and animal welfare groups.

Speaking to the Alberta Pork general meeting Nov. 14, chair Frank Novak said he sees general acknowledgement of the challenges involved in making major housing changes.

“Now we’re talking about trying to grandfather existing operations and the realization that there is no money and there is no willingness to try to find money that doesn’t exist to do major changes on things like sow housing,” he said.

“It basically won’t happen. That’s been a message that we’ve been trying to get through to people for a long time.”

Novak said the committee that is developing the draft code of practice for hogs was scheduled to meet Nov. 26 to discuss input received during the comment period and continue the process toward a final version.

A final version of the code is ex-pected by December, according to the original timeline, but the level of interest, input and additional discussion could affect the schedule.

Novak said pork producers need financial assistance to change housing systems if that part of the code remains in the final version.

“At the end of the day, we cannot and will not carry the freight on this one,” he said.

“It needs to be a market issue. And if the retailer wants it and consumers want it, come tell us, pay us and we’ll do it. We can do it better than anyone else, but we can’t do it out of the goodness of our heart.”

He said hog producers have been losing an average of $16 per pig for the last five years, and few are in a position to undertake renovation.

Calgary Co-op members voted in March to buy pork only from producers who do not use gestation stalls. The change is to take effect within five years.

Novak said Alberta Pork met with Co-op officials earlier this year and told them the desired pork could be supplied only if deals can be made with producers that reflect extra costs involved in providing it.

“Now we’ll find out if the Co-op members really believe what their resolution said and if they’re willing to pay to have that premium product in their store.”

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