Safeway to aim for ‘stall-free’ pork supply

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The Safeway grocery store chain, one of North America’s biggest by sales, says it will start "formulating plans" to cut out the use of gestation stalls for breeding sows in its pork supply chains.

The California company, which as of Dec. 31, 2011 includes 225 stores in Western Canada and Ontario, said in a release Thursday that it has already "substantially increased the quantity of pork it buys from producers that have made commitments to decreasing gestation stalls in their breeding facilities."

However, "it is Safeway’s goal to have a gestation stall-free supply chain," Brian Dowling, the company’s vice-president of public affairs, said Monday. "With that in mind, the company is formulating plans to determine how it can reach that goal."

The company, whose U.S. holdings include 1,453 stores in 21 states and the District of Columbia, said it has been "working to address the issue" of gestation stalls, which "have been criticized in recent years due to animal welfare concerns."

Dowling added that Safeway "supports the efforts of our suppliers who have committed to reductions in their use of gestation stalls" noting "several major pork producers" have made moves to curb their use of such stalls in recent years.

Safeway also noted moves by McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and foodservice firm Compass Group toward gestation stall-free supply chains. Canadian quick-service giant Tim Hortons on Friday gave its pork suppliers until the end of this year to have phase-out plans in place.

The intent of penning breeding sows in individual gestation stalls is to ensure the sow gets its full ration of feed and water and is better able to maintain pregnancy, by cutting out competition for feed and other aggressive behaviours between hogs.

Breeding sows kept in such stalls can stand or lie down and move slightly forward and backward, but are unable to turn around or roam, a fact that has made the stalls unpopular with some producers and with some animal welfare groups.

"Given the scope and quantity of pork products sold by Safeway, this announcement is an important step in addressing animal welfare in the company’s supply chain," Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States, said in Safeway’s release Monday.

"Engagement"

Following the Tim Hortons announcement on Friday, the Canadian Pork Council noted in a release that Canada’s hog farmers are already "taking an active role in animal welfare on their farms and collectively as an industry" through a national Animal Care Assessment program.

A review of the existing code of practice for pigs is the "current focus" of the Canadian industry, the CPC said. "A revised code will update guidelines for pig care on housing, health, nutrition and other animal husbandry practices through a multi-stakeholder process."

The council noted that in recent weeks’ announcements from food chains and retailers, some firms "are dictating what should happen on farm," while others have left it to the industry and experts to "chart the way forward."

Farmers "are the key in providing excellent animal care. Simply mandating practices is not the answer," the CPC said.

"Producer buy-in and engagement is critical; it is farmers that truly know what is workable on the farm. This is the direction that will be best for all, including the animals."

"Updating the code makes the approach current," CPC president Jean-Guy Vincent said in Friday’s release. "If significant changes are determined, we must have the support of many players to implement them — the burden cannot be handled by farmers alone."

Related stories:
Tim Hortons moves on sow stalls, layer hen housing, May 4, 2012
McDonald’s to move toward stall-free U.S. pork, Feb. 13, 2012
Man. hog farmers pledge sow stall phase-out, March 24, 2011