Olymel Joins Move Away from Gestation Crates

CANADA - Quebec meat packer Olymel plans to bring itself in line with the "new requirements of the market" and phase out the use of gestation crates in its hog production business.
calendar icon 25 March 2013
clock icon 4 minute read

St-Hyacinthe-based Olymel, the pork, chicken and turkey processing arm of agrifood co-operative La Coop federee - and the owner, since January, of Canada's second-biggest hog production company - recently announced it would give itself until 2022 to phase out the use of the crates for pregnant sows in breeding facilities.

Olymel, quoted in a release from Humane Society International/Canada hailing its decision, said it "believes that a ban on the use of gestation crates is inevitable in the medium and long term. Canada, along with the US, must follow suit."

Olymel, which owns nine pork packing and processing plants in Quebec, a bacon plant at Cornwall, Ontario, and a primary hog slaughter plant at Red Deer, Alberta, got directly involved in the hog production end of the business in January when it bought one of its major suppliers, Saskatchewan-based Big Sky Farms, out of receivership for $65 million.

HSI further quoted the company as saying the "entire pork production sector will have to respond positively to the demands of an increasing number of domestic and international clients who favour pork products originating from facilities which do not use crates to house pregnant sows."

Olymel president Rejean Nadeau, writing in this month's edition of La Coop federee's journal La cooperateur agricole, said the company believes the change is "inevitable" and is already underway in numerous countries.

"Gradually, over a period of 10 years, the Canadian industry will also have to comply with the new requirements of the market," he wrote.

"Olymel's decision further highlights the fact that gestation crates have no future in the pork industry," Sayara Thurston, a campaigner with HSI's Montreal-based Canadian arm, said in the organization's release Thursday.

Other major pork processors, including Toronto-based Maple Leaf Foods and U.S. packer Smithfield Foods, have also pledged such phase-outs in recent years. Retailers and fast-food chains including Safeway, McDonald's, Burger King and Tim Hortons have also given suppliers deadlines to phase out the use of the crates.

HSI, in its release, noted "the importance of Olymel's decision in view of the ongoing review of the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Pigs in Canada."

"If the updated code is to be relevant for Canadian producers and respected in international markets, the code development committee must take into account the overwhelming global trend away from the use of gestation crates and include a timeline for the complete elimination of these confinement systems from the Canadian pork industry."

The National Farm Animal Care Council, which oversees the development of codes of practice for farm animals, said in December it expects to meet a 1 June target to begin the public comment period on the revised code for pigs.

Big Sky's founder Florian Possberg, in his role as chair of the NFACC pig code committee, said in a release last week that gestation stalls, along with space allowance and pain mitigation, are "the most sensitive (issues) and we have looked at them in depth to find the best approach."

Those three issues, he said, "will likely be the lightning rods when the draft code comes out for public comment and that feedback will help shape the final document."

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