2 May 2018, 09:11 AM
AHDB Pork Blog
I was lucky enough to travel to Canada a few weeks ago, along with my colleague Angela Cliff. We visited a number of establishments as well as attending the London Swine Conference in Ontario.
The first person we met in Saskatoon was Dr Yolande Seddon, who is an Assistant Professor in Swine Behaviour and Welfare at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine. Yolande kindly showed us around a number of the university buildings and also introduced us to some of her colleagues who are conducting research across species.
It soon became clear that there’s a different approach to the welfare of pigs in Canada, and the general feel from many people we met was that “the Canadian Pig Industry is around 10 years behind Europe and the UK”. Yolande explained the Canadian government prefers the industry to legislate itself and, apart from some specific points, they leave the industry to operate on its own. She went on to explain there is a ‘Health and Welfare Act’ but, as an example of how loose this is, she said enrichment is only suggested and not part of any legislation.
Most of the dry sows in Canada are still kept in stalls and a lot of the research the Prairie Swine Centre is doing is around how best to keep sows in group housing. The target is for the industry to be out of stalls by 2024.
Welfare is going to be a major part of the work Yolande and her team will be researching as part of the latest grant that has been awarded to her; she plans to concentrate on ‘stress that impacts the immune system and affects health and growth’.
We also learned that the Canadian pig industry is struggling, as we are, with staffing, both in terms of recruitment and retention. Although I attended a workshop at the London Swine Conference (Ontario) on this topic, it was surprising to see how few people attended it compared with the other workshops over the two days – it made me think the industry is burying its head!
As in the UK, Canadian farmers and allied industry are under pressure from animal welfare bodies and animal rights organisations. If a company or farm is targeted because of an incident the press pick up on, it inevitably leads to a vigil outside the farm or business and, although the Canadian farmers and producers are trying to engage wherever appropriate, it doesn’t actually make much, if any, difference.
One of the real highlights of the trip for Angela and I was the quality of the meat produced in Canada. We fell in love with a product called pea meal bacon, which is a cross between English back bacon and gammon. We both felt this would be a winner for the UK market and could only enhance the experience of eating pork. During the trip, we also visited an indoor market in London, Ontario, and the pork products on display looked delicious, with some ‘Butterfly Chops’ looking more like ribeye with the amount of marbling.
Finally, I have to say what a wonderful place Canada is to visit. Everyone we met, whether attached to farming or not, were so helpful and friendly and I hope I’ll have the opportunity to visit the country again in the future.
To find out more about the Canadian pig industry and the key highlights from our trip, you can listen to a webinar we held on 8 May here. You can also see some more photos from the Prairie Swine Centre here.
By AHDB Pork at 2 May 2018, 09:11 AM