Harper Government Urged To Heed New Animal Welfare Scientific Report

CANADA - A new scientific report released by the Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals (CCFA) has condemned the widespread use of "sow stalls" in Canada's hog industry, and says the practice threatens foreign markets for Canadian pork.
calendar icon 1 March 2006
clock icon 4 minute read
World Society for the Protection of Animals

Jointly funded by CCFA and the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), the report entitled Gestation Stalls and the Welfare of Sows in Canada reviews the scientific literature pertaining to the use of sow stalls and the implications for pig welfare.

"Sow stalls," explains CCFA's John Youngman "are heavy metal cages 2 m long by .6 m wide-a size so small the animals cannot even turn around. They must eat, sleep, defecate and urinate all in the same spot." Also known as sow crates or gestation stalls, sow stalls are used to confine breeding sows for their entire adult lives, pregnancy after pregnancy.

According to the report, sow stalls are detrimental to the physical and psychological well-being of sows for the following reasons:

  • Sow stalls are typically designed to house sows ranging in size between 100 to 250 kg despite the fact that some sows weigh in at more than 300 kg.;

  • Confinement of sows in sow stalls has been found to result in reduced fitness, decreased muscular tissue, lower cardiovascular strength, decreased bone mass, joint damage, lameness, sores and urinary infections, according to a number of recent studies;

  • Sows in stalls typically display a higher incidence of chronic stress and frustration; and

  • Deprived of the ability to exercise natural behaviours, sows in cages display "repetitive and destructive behaviours" known as "stereotypies." These repetitive movements which serve no useful purpose, such as bar-biting, indicate an animal is being driven "insane," according to at least one scientist.

The report concludes that Canada should follow the lead of other nations and phase out sow stalls in favour of "group housing" where groups of sows live together in open barns without cages. In Europe, sow stalls may not be used after 2013. They will be banned in the Netherlands and the State of Florida in 2008. While these other countries are moving to replace sow stalls on animal welfare grounds, approximately 75% of Canada's 1.6-million breeding sows are caged.

With farm animal welfare poised to become a serious trade issue, CCFA has written to the federal Minister of Agriculture, Chuck Strahl, asking him to spearhead a dialogue with provincial agriculture ministers with the goal of improving living conditions for mother pigs and preserving Canada's stake in the global market for pork products. According to Canada Pork International, Canada currently exports $2.6-billion worth of pork to 129 countries around the world, including a number in Europe.

"In this age of the global marketplace and the ethical consumer, the Canadian hog industry needs to improve animal-welfare standards or risk losing its global customers," according to Youngman.

In a 2005 Decima Research poll conducted on behalf of CCFA and WSPA, 80% of Canadians surveyed felt that confining farm animals to small cages that prevents them from turning around is unacceptable (the poll was based on a sample of 1028 Canadians and is considered accurate to within +/- 3.1%, 19 times out of 20).

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