Maple Leaf pushes forward with sustainability strategy

Aims to cut environmental footprint in half in 10 years

Maple Leaf Foods has launched a new sustainability strategy that includes everything from reducing its environmental footprint to treating animals better and improving food quality.

The initiative is important because “we’re a hungry planet,” Michael McCain, president and CEO of Maple Leaf Foods explained in a YouTube video. While meat protein is an important part of our diets, the planet has finite resources, he said. "By 2050, the world will need to feed 2 billion more people, responsibly,” “We have to do things smarter, better and more responsibly.”

The sustainability framework has four priorities:  advancing nutrition and health with nutritious, sustainable and affordable food, made with simpler, natural ingredients, advancing holistic approaches to food insecurity, which affects one in eight households, treating animals well and eliminating waste by reducing Maple Leaf's environmental footprint by 50% in 10 years.

Maple Leaf has developed an Animal Wellness Strategy and says it will enforce a zero tolerance policy for abuse of animals, within its operations or by suppliers.

READ: At Maple Leaf, the animal doctor is in

The strategy contains “five freedoms” for animals: Freedom from hunger or thirst, discomfort, pain, injury or disease and fear and freedom to express normal behaviours by providing animals with company and sufficient space.

Maple Leaf says it was the first company in Canada to commit to converting sows (pregnant pigs) from gestation crates to loose housing.

By the end of 2014, more than 7,000 sows were transitioned from two large sow barns with gestation crate systems to open housing and the company hopes to increase that number to 35,000 by 2017.

The company reconfigured barns and walkways at its Brandon, M.B. pork processing plant this year to reflect natural hog behaviour patterns. Walkway lengths have been shortened and animals can travel together in groups rather than single file, which significantly reduces stress levels.

This year, Maple Leaf also established a central leadership position for animal care, with the mandate to develop an integrated program that incorporates leading science.

As part of its plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, water usage and waste, energy reduction and water usage audits are being conducted in 14 highly utilized Maple Leaf plants and offices across Canada to determine energy and water usage-cutting solutions for each location. All manufacturing, office and distribution centres are undergoing a waste audit this year to help identify how waste can be cut aggressively.

Maple Lead says it is reducing process waste and inefficiencies and packaging and food waste and has reduced truck transportation by more than 9 million kilometres annually since 2010.
To advance nutrition, the company says it has introduced more than 100 new products with simpler, more natural ingredients since the 2010 launch of its Maple Leaf Natural Selections and Schneiders Country Naturals lines, which now represent more than 20% of its total prepared meats sales.

READ: The shift to kinder (but more costly) animal products

A priority is being placed on reducing or removing sodium from prepared meats products. The company says almost all fresh pork and poultry products are low in sodium and well below voluntary 2016 Health Canada guidelines, which are designed to help Canadians achieve an average daily sodium intake of 2,300 mg.

Maple Leaf says about 40% of its prepared meats products meet the 2016 sodium guidelines, and every new protein product except some cured meats must meet the voluntary guidelines.

As well, the company says it is increasing the readability of packaging to help consumers make informed food choices. Maple Leaf labels are being revamped this year and a similar program for Schneiders labels is slated for completion in 2016.

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