03/06/2014 05:37 EST | Updated 05/06/2014 05:59 EDT

A Brighter Future For Hog Farming

The Canadian Federation of Humane Societies (CFHS) is looking forward to a Canada where pigs are raised free from sow stalls and painful practices and today we are one step closer. The new Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Pigs which was released today created over 100 clear animal care requirements and directly addresses group housing and the use of pain relief for tail docking and castration.

With the rise of industrialized farming practices the hog industry has changed substantially over the past three decades. Currently more than 27 million animals are raised annually on 7,000 farms in Canada -- 70% of which are exported, primarily to the United States.


One of the most contentious issues in hog farming is the use of confinement housing which causes extreme stress and frustration. Sows (female pigs) are kept in gestation stalls, farrowing crates or breeder stalls for the majority of their lives. When confined to gestation stalls sows can often only take one step forward or back, but they can't turn around or exhibit many of their natural behaviours such as rooting.

Imagine the stress and frustration of being stuck in an airplane seat for all of your adult life. From gestation stalls sows are moved to similarly confining farrowing crates where they give birth and feed their young, until the next breeding and gestation cycle begins. These animals, which we know are intelligent, social and driven to root are not able to express or engage in the natural behaviours that are important to them.

One of the important roles played by the CFHS over the past two decades has been representing Canada's humane societies and SPCAs in the development of Canada's Codes of Practice for the care and handling of farm animals. These codes, funded by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and developed by committees formed of industry, government, and CFHS representatives, set out national standards for farm animal care.

The direct result of the CFHS' tireless efforts for the last three years on the development of the new Code for pigs is that we secured more than 100 clear requirements that all farmers in Canada must adhere to including:

  • A ban on construction of new barns that do not provide group housing (effective July 1st, 2014);
  • A ban on conventional stall systems that continuously restrict sow freedom of movement (effective July 1st, 2024);
  • The mandatory use of anesthetic and analgesic when castrating piglets over 10 days of age (effective immediately);
  • The mandatory use of analgesics when castrating or tail-docking piglets at any age (effective July 1st, 2016);
  • Requirements for all pigs to have multiple forms of enrichment to enhance their physical and social environments (effective immediately);
  • A ban on tethering of pigs (effective immediately).

This new code is a watershed moment in Canada, although it was an arduous process to get the industry to make advances toward animal welfare. The CFHS advocates for only those farming practices that provide good welfare for the animals. We strongly advocated that sow stalls must be eliminated because housing pigs in severe confinement does not meet the physical or psychological needs of these intelligent animals.

The CFHS believes that when food animals are in our care they should be treated as humanely as possible up until, and including their slaughter. We know from peer reviewed animal welfare science that it is possible to achieve equal or better productivity and health in group-housing systems compared to individual gestation stalls provided that they are well designed and managed.

The public has become more aware and concerned about the treatment of the animals that they consume for food. And there is mounting pressure on retailers that their meat products be raised under more humane conditions. In recent years at least 50 retail outlets have committed to removing gestation stalls from their supply chain including Maple Leaf, Loblaws, Tim Hortons and US fast food giants McDonald's and Burger King.

The Canadian Pork Council has committed to incorporating the requirements outlined in the Code into their on-farm Animal Care Assessment program. The CFHS will hold them to this commitment.

It's vital that the public holds the industry to their commitments as well.

As a consumer you have the power to improve the lives of pigs in Canada:

  • Educate your friends and family about the industry accepted conditions pigs are raised in.
  • Demand that the Canadian Pork Council follows through on its commitment to incorporate the requirements outlined in the Code into their on-farm Animal Care Assessment program.
  • Refuse to purchase inhumanely raised pork products. Ask for humanely raised pork products at your local grocery store and choosing an alternative until humanely raised pork products are available.
  • Sign the pig pledge.

To read the Code of Practice and for a complete breakdown of which companies are phasing out sow stalls visit