Changes to hog farming proposed after release of undercover video

Shocking footage of pigs being poorly treated at a Manitoba farming operation could have the impact animal-rights activists had hoped when they launched their undercover operation: industry change.

The undercover footage shot by the group Mercy for Animals and provided to CTV's current affairs program W5 has people questioning whether the hog farming industry needs an update.

The report exposed the stark conditions at the Puratone facility north of Winnipeg, where sows were repeatedly impregnated in crates and unceremoniously killed when they could no longer produce. Employees would kill defective piglets by smashing them against hard objects and thrown into piles, occasionally without being fatally injured.

Video shows alleged abuse of pigs at hog farmWARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT. An animal rights group has released a video it says shows animal abuse at a Puratone Corp. hog farm in Manitoba. The company's CEO says the images do not reflect its animal care rules and "corrective actions" will be taken.

That practice, you may be interested to learn, is called piglet thumping and is approved by the hog farming industry.

The claims of abuse and mistreatment go on, and debate rages over whether the actions are limited to one facility or indicative of an industry that doesn't show enough care for the animals in their charge.

[ Related: Office of Manitoba's top veterinarian reviewing video of alleged pig farm abuse ]

Veterinarians told W5 they considered the actions in the video abuse, while experts interviewed by the program said they did not break any industry laws.

Mercy for Animals, a U.S. group currently establishing a Canadian chapter, says the industry does not do enough to protect the animals and has called for grocery stores to reject meat from producers who use such practices.

The group said practices found at Puratone, such as anesthetic-free castration and the use of confinement crates, were standard in the Canadian industry.

Not so fast, says the industry, quick to distance itself from the disturbing footage.

The Manitoba Pork Council told the Winnipeg Free Press that the video did not represent the entire industry.

The council has asked the province's chief veterinary officer to review the footage and consider whether animal cruelty charges are warranted.

Chairman Karl Kynoch told the newspaper that the goal is to euthanize animals with the least pain possible. That can mean slamming piglets against concrete, when the act is done properly.

That again: slamming piglets against concrete can by the most humane way to euthanize an animal, when they are slammed properly.

"This is three months of video being edited down into 10 minutes," Kynoch told the Press. "They are going to go in and look for the worst moments because their end goal is that everybody stops eating meat."

[ Related: Pig welfare has a price for Europe's pork lovers ]

Ray Hildebrand, president of Puratone, said his company has strict practices regarding animal welfare and that he was disappointed by some of what he saw.

However:

The vast majority of our people respect the animals under their care and follow good stewardship practices regarding animal welfare. All of our employees receive training to ensure that they adhere to these standards and we have veterinarians on staff to enforce these requirements.

Dr. Olivier Berreville, a biology professor at Dalhousie University who has a focus on farm animal welfare, was asked to review the footage from the Puratone facility.

He said the offenses he witnessed were linked to such industrial barns, which he believes should be replaced by systems that provide some humanity to the animals — such as "hoop barns" that group the animals together on straw floors.

Via a column reprinted in the Winnipeg Free Press:

Straw-based group housing systems are used, or are being implemented, worldwide as gestation crates have been banned in nine U.S. states, Australia, New Zealand, and the entire EU. A growing number of grocery chains are requiring their pork suppliers to phase out sow stalls. These systems could easily be implemented throughout Canada.

Berreville says most of Manitoba's hog farms were built during a period of rapid government-subsidized expansion in the 1990s and are coming up on the end of their life span. He suggests phasing in hoop barns as new facilities are built.

[ Related: Why you shouldn't kiss pigs at the county fair ]

Perhaps an alternative to piglet thumping could be found as well.