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Maple Leaf moves forward with open housing for sows

Company pledges to have 35,000 of its approximately 60,000 sows in open housing by 2017

In its ongoing efforts to become “a better meat company,” Maple Leaf is continuing to move its sows into open housing as part of a broader sustainability plan spanning four key priorities: Nutrition and health; people and communities; animal care; and environmental sustainability.

Dr. Greg Douglas, the former Ontario chief veterinarian who took over as Maple Leaf’s vice-president of animal care in July, says the company announced its intent to begin moving sows into open housing in 2007.

“Canadians are increasingly curious about what happens in raising their food, and it’s our genuine attempt to be more transparent about what happens in agriculture,” says Douglas, who appears in an online video outlining Maple Leaf’s commitment to animal care.

“Through the eyes of the animal, it’s certainly a beneficial approach to animal husbandry.”

He says that the open housing concept better satisfies the so-called “five freedoms” of animal welfare – freedom from hunger and thirst; freedom from discomfort; freedom from pain, injury or disease; freedom to express normal behaviour; and freedom from fear and distress – by providing the animals with the ability to feed when they want and interact with other animals.

The concept also creates production benefits by enabling caregivers to quickly and easily identify animals in need of medical attention, says Douglas.

Maple Leaf is the first large-scale producer in Canada to adopt an open-housing model. The U.S. pork processing giant Smithfield Foods also began phasing out stalls in 2007.

Maple Leaf currently owns 27 sow barns, each housing between 1,000 and 3,000 animals. The company has pledged to have 35,000 sows in open housing by the end of 2017, and Douglas says the goal is to have all of its approximately 60,000 sows kept in open housing facilities by 2020.

Douglas says that converting barns from pens to open housing represents a “significant” capital investment for Maple Leaf, although costs can vary depending on factors such as what type of feeding system or flooring is installed, as well as the allotted space (a recent report on pegged the cost at approximately $1,000 per sow).

Maple Leaf has created a website outlining the various aspects of its $1 billion sustainability plan, which also includes a goal of reducing its environmental footprint by 50% by 2025.

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