On August 4, 2020, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) laid charges against Hylife Foods. The CFIA notification reads: “It is alleged that on September 18, 2018, Hylife Foods Inc. and Hylife Foods LP handled hogs and used equipment in Neepawa, Manitoba in a manner that caused the animals avoidable distress or pain, thereby committing offences under section 21(3) of the Meat Inspection Act . . . Two charges allege that Hylife Foods Inc. and Hylife Foods LP used equipment for rendering hogs unconscious in a manner that subjected the animals to avoidable distress or pain.”
On September 11, 2020, the CFIA convicted Hylife Foods. The company pled guilty to three charges and were fined $75,000.
Who is Hylife Foods?
On its website, Hylife touts itself as Canada’s leading pork producer. Hylife is a foreign-owned corporation with head offices around the world. The company is vertically integrated, controlling most aspects of production including genetics, feed, farming, slaughter, and shipping. Its production is heavily geared to exporting pork to international markets, for example it is the largest Canadian exporter of pork to Japan. Earlier this year, Hylife acquired ProVista, one of Canada’s largest independent pork producers. With this acquisition, it is estimated that Hylife will “produce” an additional 1 million pigs per year, adding to its already existing 2.3 million production capacity. To put that into perspective, the total number of pigs slaughtered in Canada in 2019 was nearly 22 million.
In 2016, Hylife expanded its slaughterhouse in Neepawa, Manitoba, the site where the current charges were laid against the company. This slaughterhouse kills over 7,600 pigs a day according to Hylife’s 2019 corporate video.
This company’s expansion and acquisition is representative of the significant intensification of factory farming in Canada, particularly so in the pork sector.
The Industrialization of Pig Farming in Canada
As we showed in a previous post on factory farming in Canada, the sector where we have seen the greatest intensification of animals is pig farming. From 1976 – 2016, the number of pig farms in Canada decreased from 63,602 to 8,402, while the average numbers of pigs per farm increased over 18 times, from just 91 in 1976 to 1,677 in 2016.
Broadening the scope further to 100 years, Statistics Canada shows an even more drastic picture of the industrialization of pig farming in Canada.
Hylife’s expansion and its vertically integrated business model exemplifies the adoption of US style factory farming, with notable similarities to Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer. While smaller independent pig farmers are struggling, large corporations like Hylife, Olymel, and Maple Leaf Foods are thriving and dominating the Canadian pork industry.
The Collapse of the Independent Pig Farmer
The fact that the overall growth in the western Canadian hog sector is near zero and existing barn maintenance is at an extremely low level, suggests an industry in significant decline if not directly toward collapse.”Western Pork Boards’ Pricing Committee Summary, July 17, 2020
Throughout the summer, we have seen numerous warnings from pork industry associations that independent farmers are losing money and are leaving the industry. From a Western Producer article in July: “We’re losing so many independent producers. We’re even seeing (Hutterite) colonies exiting the pork industry. Which is really… unheard of.” While this sounds like good news for those of us who want to see an end to factory farming and a transition to a plant-based agricultural system, the likely trend is that corporations like Hylife will capitalize on the collapse of independent farmers, in turn expanding their own meat empires. From the same article: “If the pricing system isn’t fixed, soon, Western Canada could have a very different hog industry. It might become vertically integrated, where a few companies raise all the pigs, process pork and export it to the world.” This sentiment is also expressed in a recent column where the author champions US style mega-farms:
Maybe from a provincial perspective, the Alberta government needs to put into place significant incentives to build new massive high-tech hog processing plants with more giant hog farms all owned by integrated operators like Olymel, HyLife or Maple Leaf Foods. If the day of the independent hog producers is done, let’s get into the big leagues of pork production – jobs and economic development would be significant.
While the industry is moving towards even larger scale industrial pork production, for those of us who want to see the end of this exploitative food system, it is crucial to note this sector’s heavy reliance on exports: the majority of pigs in Canada are bred and killed for the export market. Millions of pigs are also bred solely to be shipped abroad in the live animal export trade. We examined this in our previous post, where we stressed that changing consumption habits in Canada towards plant-based diets is not affecting how many animals are being bred into this cruel system. These corporations will breed and kill increasing numbers of pigs every year and find new international markets for their products.
What does this mean for animals and food policy?
We’ve seen that animal cruelty is an inherent part of Canada’s animal agriculture system. Whether a “family farm” has 500 animals or a corporate farm has 50,000, the neglect, confinement, abuse, and perpetual animal cruelty is not limited to the type of operator or its size. In the animal agriculture system, animal cruelty is the norm, not the exception. With Hylife expanding its operations, both in terms of the number of pigs it subjugates and the increased capacity of its industrial slaughterhouse, the number of animals suffering under its control will markedly increase as well.
Whether we see a few large corporations like Hylife dominating the pork industry or a mixture of corporate and independent producers, the outcome is always the same: tens of millions of pigs live in extreme confinement and are subjected to incredible pain and suffering their entire lives. The dramatic industrialization of animal farming in Canada is a stark reminder that there is a moral imperative to transition our food system away from animal agriculture and towards plant-based and cellular agriculture. Our efforts should always be focused on achieving that goal through effective advocacy and organizing.
One potential upside of corporations like Hylife, Maple Leaf, and Olymel dominating the pork industry is that the public – even those that eat meat – are generally opposed to factory farming and the industrialization of meat production. In order to sway policy makers to transition away from the industrial meat production model, it’s crucial that public opinion is on side. In the US, the Farm System Reform Act has been introduced to phase out factory farming by 2040. This anti-factory farm sentiment is rapidly growing across the globe for a variety of reasons. As advocates, we need to seize upon this momentum and push to phase out factory farming in Canada. Fortunately, a recent Grassroots poll found that Canadians prioritize government support for plant-based agriculture over the animal agriculture industries, with the pork sector notably being the least favoured by Canadians. The public is on side.
These rare charges by the CFIA are a welcome sight to see in an industry that abuses animals every day with impunity, but they also raise a number of questions: over 2.2 million animals are slaughtered every day in Canada, why did the CFIA lay charges against this company now? It’s unimaginable that every slaughter in Canada is performed according to regulations – we’ve seen that borne out in numerous undercover investigations. So what is the difference in this case? Why now? What happened in Neepawa?
What happens in Neepawa?