Letters: Pork should lead with values
By Ruth Pryzner
Published: June 21, 2023
In response to the May 2 Co-operator article, “Values lead on public trust”:
As Amy te Plate-Church, presenter at the Manitoba Pork Council’s most recent annual meeting said, “lead with values” in the debate about industrial hog methods of raising pigs.
Let’s do that.
The crux of this value debate lies in the reality of how pre-industrial and non-industrial farmers value and raise pigs as opposed to industrial pork meat production. To be efficient, modern and open for business, the vertically integrated hog factory system and Brandon slaughter plant was welcomed to Manitoba in the late 1990s by the Filmon Conservative government, to the detriment of pig, farmer and worker welfare.
Back then, most pigs were raised by farmers who had a much different set of values than the industry at almost every level.
Most farmers respected how each pig is an intelligent individual that needs to move, interact with other pigs in familial relationships, root in soil, sleep in straw, wallow in mud and have enriched physical, social and psychological lives.
Raising pigs this way isn’t viewed as efficient or modern by industrial standards. That’s because the industry’s underlying values are profit-seeking at the expense of eight million Manitoba pigs annually suffering, which can’t be mitigated or ameliorated in any meaningful way despite industry claims and the development of codes of care.
Prior to industrialization of pork production, farmers could make a living with few pigs per farm and no or minimal environmental damage from too many nutrients concentrated on too small a land base (characteristic of industrial production) because they had created a marketing board to negotiate reasonable prices with the big buyers for their pigs.
Maple Leaf Foods wanted this market power destroyed. Government obliged.
“Consumers do want real meat, milk and eggs from humanely treated animals,” te Plate-Church said. “They’re just not sure if they’re humanely treated. And that’s our opportunity to close that gap and provide that information.”
The hog industry continually asserts that its method of raising pigs is humane and has always operated with high standards in animal welfare, environmental stewardship and treatment of its workers.
Why then is the industry required to eventually eliminate gestation crates for sows (with a later proposal to push back the initial 2024 deadline)? If production methods were humane, as the industry always claimed, why the change?
It is not new animal welfare studies that precipitated the move. Veterinarians with values that coincide with those of farmers spoke out 25 years ago when the industry was taking hold in Manitoba, clearly showing that sows kept in row after row of narrow cages, where all they can do is stand up and lie down on bare concrete, eat, defecate, go insane and, when ready to give birth, be moved to another crate to farrow and nurse their young piglets, is a brutal life no sow should have to endure.
Those who share this value (including people who choose to not eat meat) also understand that the industrial model that moves sows into breeding crates after piglets are weaned and, when bred, puts them back into gestation crates, is standard industry practice. It is inherent systemic cruelty that cannot be ameliorated. It is a cycle of sow suffering that continues their whole short lives as piglet-producing factories.
Boars too are kept in cages their entire lives until moved out briefly for semen collection or to breed sows trapped in breeding cages. Weaned pigs to be fed until big enough to be killed for meat are raised in groups, but they are in pens, hundreds of animals crammed together, living on concrete floors over manure pits emitting toxic gases inhaled with every breath. When ventilation systems fail, pigs quickly die.
Workers breathing these fumes can suffer from serious respiratory problems. Some have died working with manure pits. Air ventilated from these barns contains toxic chemicals including hydrogen sulfide, causing health and serious odour concerns for neighbours.
How can the industry’s claim that pig and human welfare are valued be the least bit credible?
Unfortunately, the industry is not what it markets itself as, and speakers like te Plate-Church twist, distort and minimize the true harms and costs of industrial pig production. All the “value-led” marketing to convince the public that industrial pork production is farming and reflects the values of farmers and consumers who want humanely raised meat will not change the reality of how the industry produces pigs.
At least for this farmer, industry does not and can never reflect my values, which includes proper care of people, pigs and the environment.