Questionable Animal Care

A spotlight has been put on animal care practices in the hog industry after a national television show on Saturday featured undercover footage from a barn near Arborg.

The video was taken by an employee who was investigating the barn for the animal rights group "Mercy For Animals - Canada." The footage includes graphic images of the use of blunt force trauma to euthanize weanlings and sick animals struggling to walk. One clip also showed a worker euthanizing a sow by firing a metal bolt into her skull.

Mercy For Animals Canada is using the video to pressure retailers such as Sobeys, Loblaws, Metro, and Walmart Canada to adopt animal welfare policies that prohibit their suppliers from the use of gestation stalls.

"The hidden cost of cheap pork is blatant animal abuse," argues Twyla Francois, MFA Canada's director of investigations. "It's time that these Canadian retailers take meaningful action to ensure that the animals raised and killed for their stores do not endure lives filled with pain and misery."

The Manitoba and Canadian Pork Councils, along with Puratone - the company that operates the barn, have all denounced some of the practices shown, and have forwarded the video to the province's chief veterinary officer for investigation.

"Some of the practices here were below what the industry standards are, and below what a lot of producers try to hold up on their farms," says Manitoba Pork chair and Baldur-area producer Karl Kynoch.

But some of the the footage that the public might find disturbing is common and considered acceptable, says Kynoch.

"Some of the practices shown were very graphic, and it will be hard for the public to understand, but they are normal. We didn't get the opportunity to explain on this show why we do that and some of the alternatives that we are looking at," he says. "We always try to use the best animal care possible, and we're always exploring ways to move it forward."

An independent animal care panel from the Centre for Food Integrity, consisting of experts from the University of Manitoba, University of Guelph and the Prairie Swine Centre, supports what Kynoch says. A report from the panel concludes "while some of the animal handling practices shown are improper, most of what is seen are widely considered acceptable and humane.

Kynoch says the producers of the television report failed to provide a balanced perspective.

"We feel it was slanted. They did come and do some interviews with our staff members and university people. They did very long interviews, but they showed very little of these comments," he says. "So we need to make sure we let the public know about the positive things we do and how we work to continue to keep animal welfare at a very high level."

"At the end of the day, there's no advantage to not treating your animals good. The better we treat our animals, the better they will perform for us as well," says Kynoch. "So we're definitely looking at this video and all the repercussions, and see where we can make improvements going forward."

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