Members of the Retail Council of Canada, including Co-op Atlantic, Canada Safeway, Costco Wholesale Canada, Federated Co-operatives Limited, Loblaw Companies Limited, Metro Inc., Sobeys Inc. and Walmart Canada Corp., have developed a “voluntary commitment” related to sow housing. According to a statement on the Council’s website, “the Retail Council of Canada believes that sows should be housed in an environment where their pregnancy, health and well-being are taken into highest consideration; and that the selection of sow housing be based on a combination of sound science, stakeholder expectations and the long term viability of the industry.”

Currently most producers in Canada utilize indoor stall systems, which “have allowed for easier management of sows through more consistent feed and less injuries from aggression.” However, there are “concerns that this system inhibits natural behaviors.” Ironically, one of those natural behaviors is aggression.

The Council members feel “alternative housing,” should be encouraged, and they are working closely with the National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC) and the Canadian Pork Council through a robust, multi-stakeholder process to update the Pig Codes of Practice. The new code will be released for public comment on June 1, 2013, and will include a number of issues relevant to pig welfare.

Unfortunately, the cost for small to mid-sized producers will be prohibitive (estimated at approximately US $600/sow), and since the industry has struggled to be profitable in recent months due to high grain prices, a move to another type of housing systems could be devastating for many family producers.

In the commitment itself, the Retail Council of Canada states its members “support the Canadian Pork Council’s process to update its Codes of Practice and will work towards sourcing fresh pork products from sows raised in alternative housing practices as defined in the updated Codes by the end of 2022.”

One is lead to believe that if members are unsuccessful in locating enough supply in alternative housing, this voluntary commitment provides the opportunity to source animals as they have in the past. In addition, members will continue to dialogue with other stakeholders in the pork supply chain, including the Canadian Pork Council as well as with the National Farm Animal Care Council.

Each company will implement this commitment in accordance with their own specific business requirements and in consultation with their vendor partners.