Steve Buist, Hamilton Spectator, 2008.06.06
The use of battery-powered electric prods to get hogs moving is a controversial animal welfare issue.
The prod is poked into the back or rump of the pig and with a push of a button, a flash of electric current jumps between two contacts. It’s enough to elicit a loud squeal in some pigs.
I wanted to feel it for myself, so one day, I asked Brian, one of the workers at the Littlejohns’ farm, to zap me with the prod.
“No way,” he said, horrified. “I’m not doing that to you.”
“I will,” Henry piped up, without hesitation, a mischievous smile on his face.
I turned around and Henry jabbed the prod into my left buttock and pushed the button.
Even through my coveralls, I felt a sharp pinching sensation that was strong enough to cause me to jump slightly.
In addition to being an animal welfare issue, the use of electric prods can also have economic consequences for hog farmers.
A study last year at the Prairie Swine Centre in Saskatchewan compared the effects of moving hogs through a 300-metre course with and without electric prods.
More than 40 per cent of the group subjected to an electric prod showed physiological and behavioural signs of stress. About 4 per cent were stressed to the point of falling down or stumbling.
The group that was moved through the course in a gentle manner had no animals showing signs of stress.
The lead researcher concluded that if 2 per cent of animals were lost because of aggressive handling, a 600-sow farrow-to-finish operation could lose the equivalent of 280 market hogs in a year, representing an economic loss anywhere from $26,000 to $37,000, depending on hog prices.
At the Great Lakes Specialty Meats processing plant in Mitchell, no electric prods are used after the animals leave the transport trucks. Handlers use plastic paddles to guide the hogs through pens and chutes.
As if Canada’s hog farmers weren’t facing enough problems.
Already battered by high feed prices, a strong Canadian dollar and weak pork prices, they’re now under attack from American lawmakers.
Beginning Sept. 30, the United States will adopt a new policy requiring country-of-origin labelling for pork products.
The details haven’t been finalized, but the bill will require pork processing plants to distinguish between packages containing meat from hogs raised only in the United States and those that contain meat from pigs that spent some or all of their life in Canada.
It’s a potential nightmare for Canadian hog farmers and U.S. packing plants because pigs move across the border throughout their life cycle.
In 2006, for example, almost three million Canadian hogs were sent to the United States for slaughter. But another six million piglets, mostly in western Canada, were exported south to be raised until it was time for market to take advantage of lower feed costs in the American Midwest.
Figuring out how to keep all those pigs separated at the farm or the processing plant so that the right packaging label can be applied will be nearly impossible.
Professor Ken McEwan said American processing plants may elect to not even bother accepting hogs from Canada because of the hassle. It could lead to added costs that can’t be passed on to consumers.
“There’s the whole issue of liability, too,” said McEwan, a swine economics expert at the University of Guelph’s Ridgetown campus. “The liability comes back to the retailers, and retailers are saying, ‘Let’s not even mess with any of that product.’”
What frustrates McEwan is that there is no economic motivation in the United States pushing country-of-origin labelling forward.
“This certainly isn’t consumer-driven,” said McEwan.
“Is it politically motivated?” I asked him.
“I think that is a fair assumption,” McEwan replied. “If there was an economic incentive to it, I’d understand.”
Posted by FFC on July 23rd, 2009 :: Filed under Meat/slaughter plants,Pork,Transportation
Tags :: animal welfare, economics, labeling, meat, Ontario, pigs, Pork
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