In 2014, the National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC) updated their industry guidelines for pig welfare and recommended that the pork industry end the use of gestation crates (or sow stalls) by 2024. This statement is taken from NFACC’s website under the heading, What The Science Says:
[T]here are scientifically supported negative welfare aspects of stalls. First, they limit the sows’ freedom of movement. Second, they limit the sows’ ability to exhibit natural behaviours. These two conditions are now commonly accepted in the scientific community as essential elements of sound welfare practices.
Sows spending long time periods in stalls are limited in their social interactions, foraging and exploratory behaviours. They are also limited in exercise, resulting in reduced muscle and bone strength. Additionally, sows in stalls exhibit less comfortable resting time and more “stereotypic” behavior – i.e. repetitive movements or actions that can indicate restlessness, stress, lack of comfort, general frustration or other negative welfare implications. (Emphasis added)NFACC: Executive Summary: The Science of the Pig Code
When the ban on gestation crates was announced, people celebrated. This was deemed a victory for animal welfare and a step forward in improving inhumane agricultural practices. Canada would join many jurisdictions around the world that banned the use of these cruel devices. A Huffington Post headline from 2014 reads: Canada Bans Gestation Crates In Which Pigs Can’t Turn Around. But was this a victory? Was this even a ban?
In August 2020, NFACC revised their recommendations in a 5 Year Review Summary Report. NFACC pushed the deadline to end the use of gestation crates in Canada from 2024 to 2029 – nine years from now. In 2014, they rightly acknowledged the serious welfare issues with gestation crates and cited the scientific evidence that supported phasing them out. But since that date, NFACC has essentially gifted the industry a 15 year grace period to continue confining millions of pigs in these horrific cages.
Who is NFACC?
One point needs to be made very clear: there is no legal ban on gestation crates in Canada. The reason is that there are no federal laws governing animal welfare in Canada. It’s impossible to ban a practice across the country if there is no law outlawing it. So who is NFACC and what authority do they have?
NFACC’s website writes that, “NFACC is the national lead for farm animal care and welfare in Canada.” This private organization sets the guidelines for farmed animal care in Canada, which are called the Codes of Practice. NFACC is partially funded by the federal government and has numerous stakeholders that review guidelines and make recommendations for the treatment of farmed animals in Canada.
Some provincial animal cruelty laws reference these guidelines, however, as we wrote in a previous post, every province contains legal exemptions for agricultural practices. So even though a province may reference NFACC guidelines as approved agricultural practices, the most extreme forms of confinement (gestation crates and battery cages) are still legally permitted.
It should also be made clear that there are no government officials that inspect or monitor farms to determine if they are in compliance with NFACC guidelines. These are not publicly enforced, not legally binding, industry-created, voluntary standards. In effect, they offer no real protection for the hundreds of millions of farmed animals in Canada.
Why did NFACC recommend moving the deadline to 2029?
It’s money. It’s always about money.
These are some of the reasons that NFACC identified as to why the pork industry is unable to meet the 2024 deadline to phase out gestation crates. The following are direct quotes taken from the 5 Year Review Summary Report.
- Producers remain committed to transitioning to group housing but the conversion to group housing is not a simple one. It requires a significant amount of financing,
- The difficulty in obtaining financing required to transition to group housing also poses a barrier to meeting the current requirements.
- Per sow conversion costs depend very much on individual circumstances and much of the variation relates to how much concrete work needs to be done during retrofit. Costs of $500 per sow are typical. A new farrow-to-wean facility, with electronic sow feeding, would cost in excess of $3,500 per sow space.
- There are no price premiums for market hogs from sows housed in groups.
- A reduction in the number of animal results in a decline in overall farm revenues.
- Producers who built barns shortly before the changes to the code were announced have had insufficient time to repay the loans on their facilities.
- The failure to account for these issues will have the unintended consequences of forcing smaller farms out of business
- Given the cost and no offsetting increase in revenues, producers cannot afford to transition unless it is part of a scheduled renovation/rebuilding of an existing facility or new construction
Granted, there are both financial and logistical practicalities when converting barns to open housing. However, in this report NFACC has placed more emphasis on the financial costs to farmers than the extreme suffering that will be endured by the millions of pigs confined in gestation crates over an additional 5 years. This is in direct opposition to the purported mission of NFACC to advance farmed animal welfare, and in direct opposition to their scientific position quoted above.
For those familiar with NFACC, this should come at no surprise, given that NFACC’s partners and associate members are predominantly comprised of industry groups. The following table lists the members of the Code Technical Panel that made this recommendation. According to the report, this panel was created by the Canadian Pork Council. The representative from Humane Canada was the only member opposed to extending the deadline to 2029.
The makeup of this panel reflects the industry-heavy makeup of NFACC itself. To see all of the NFACC partners, click this link. These are the organizations that are setting the codes of practice for animal welfare in Canada. This is essentially the meat, dairy, and egg industries setting their own rules on how to treat animals while at the same time profiting off their confinement and exploitation.
To draw a comparison on how backwards this is, imagine the petroleum industry setting their own rules for resource extraction in Canada. It wouldn’t make sense to have 4 oil producers, a refinery, and a gas station all sitting at the table to set environmental standards in Canada. While there may be consultations with industry groups, environmental standards are set and enforced by government and codified in law. Regulations exist to rein in the destructive and harmful activities of the private sector. When the private sector sets the rules, they are the winners. The losers – the resources being exploited – are the animals. The end result is the consumer that pays for cheap meat from tortured animals because the externalities of their suffering are not factored into the price at the grocery store.
When an industry profits off the exploitation of a resource, be it the environment or animals, it is in their financial interest to extract as much value as they can from that resource. Gestation crates help pork producers profit at the expense of animal welfare by confining animals in the least amount of space possible. Battery cages for chickens are a similar parallel, which NFACC has “banned” the use of, and has set this deadline for 2036. That’s 16 years away. There is also no mechanism in place to prevent an additional time extension in the future. In 2036, NFACC could say the cost to producers is still too high to convert their barns, so they could push their recommendation to end the use of battery cages to 2040. Or 2050. Same goes for gestation crates, or any cruel practice that they have recommended phasing out.
The two most egregious forms of confinement in animal agriculture, gestation crates and battery cages, are permitted for use in Canada by the industry until 2029 and 2036, respectively. However, as mentioned above, NFACC codes of practice are not law. The federal government’s deferring of responsibility for farmed animal welfare standards to this organization reflects Canada’s completely broken animal welfare system.
NFACC has failed animals.
The government has failed animals.
End gestation crates by
2024 2029 NOW!
Animal protection organizations and advocates have called on the federal government for years to enact and enforce legislation to protect farmed animals. It has refused these calls. Who’s left then? Who will protect the interests of farmed animals if the government and NFACC have both failed to do so?
It’s all of us.
We need a new paradigm for food production in Canada. NFACC is not part of this paradigm. NFACC is a relic that belongs in the past, along with gestation crates and the factory farms that house them.
The Canadian Pork Council estimates that 70% of all sows in Canada live in gestation crates. The following videos show how they are used on Canadian farms.