Our global movement against intensive confinement of animals on factory farms gained major momentum with the release of a proposed new policy in Canada, coming from the National Farm Animal Care Council, which sets farm animal welfare policy in the country. This draft Code of Practice would halt construction of gestation crates throughout Canada when the standards come into effect in 2014, and would phase out the continuous housing of sow in crates 2024. The issue is open for public comment, so the decision is not final, but it’s very promising and an indicator of how dramatically the debate over these immobilizing crates has shifted in North America.
In April, the Retail Council of Canada and eight of Canada’s largest retailers – Walmart Canada, Costco Canada, Safeway Canada, Loblaw, Metro, Federated Co-operatives, Sobeys and Co-op Atlantic – committed to sourcing fresh pork products from alternatives to gestation crates over the next nine years, and today’s announcement from the National Farm Animal Care Council comes just weeks later. Two of the three largest pork producers in Canada – Olymel and Maple Leaf Foods – have already announced that they will shift away from gestation crates within the next four-to-nine years. Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer, also announced its commitment to a similar policy within the next four years.
A recent national poll in Canada showed that 84 percent of Canadians support a complete phase out of the use of gestation crate confinement systems.
There’s a clear trajectory on this issue, with dozens of major food retailers in the U.S. having made the pledge to phase out crates – after McDonald’s announced the move in January 2012 – and the European Union having enacted a phase-out of the lifelong confinement of pigs in crates in 1999 (a prohibition that will take effect in 2013).
Last Thursday, I wrote about the proposed purchase of pork giant Smithfield by a massive Chinese meat producer, Shuanghai, for an agreed-upon price of $4.7 billion. The purchase is subject to review, and some have expressed concern that Smithfield will retreat on its public pledges regarding gestation crates. Officials at Smithfield assure us that’s not the case, and the phase-in of a gestation-crate-free policy for its company-owned facilities is moving apace. Maybe the best outcome would be for Shuanghai to reevaluate its animal welfare standards and adopt Smithfield’s policy on crates. If it did, that would help to make China the next great economic power, and pork consumer, to signal that it’s going to get out of the gestation crate business – and out of the business of denying animals the opportunity to engage in some of their most basic behaviors.
This examination of the issue of animal welfare is overdue in China. Meat consumption there is increasing, and poorly regulated factory farming is metastasizing. Earlier today, explosions and fire tore through parts of a poultry plant in northeast China on Monday, killing at least 119 people in one of the country’s worst factory accidents in recent years. Countless birds undoubtedly perished in the inferno. Poor safety standards, intensive confinement, and a general disregard for animals are no longer acceptable in the global economy, whether it’s birds, pigs, or factory workers who are caught up in these harsh and unforgiving production systems.