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This article was published 27/7/2011 (3737 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A Manitoba judge has taken aim at the provincial hog industry, suggesting there may be a widespread culture of putting profits over the humane treatment of pigs.
The issue was placed in the public domain Wednesday at the sentencing hearing for a truck driver convicted of violating the Health of Animals Act. Provincial court Judge Fred Sandhu said the facts of the case "turned the stomach" and may be symptomatic of a greater problem in Manitoba.
"The act only speaks to death. The suffering part -- I'm not sure that's something the industry is all that concerned about," Sandhu said. "These are such highly avoidable situations. Is the attitude they're going to be dead in three hours anyways so what does it matter?"
Mike Maurice, 24, pleaded guilty to failing to take adequate steps to ensure the safe transport of 232 pigs bound for slaughter. He was given a $5,000 fine under a joint recommendation from Crown and defence lawyers.
Maurice picked up the pigs in Niverville on a hot, humid day in August 2008 and then took 41/2 hours to drive to the Maple Leaf Foods rendering plant in Brandon, including a stop along the way, court was told. Maurice then spent another 90 minutes with his truck parked in a loading bay before it was his turn to unload.
He opened the back of his trailer to a horrific sight -- 22 pigs had died of heat stroke, while another six collapsed and had to be euthanized.
At no point did Maurice ensure the pigs had proper air flow or water to cool down from the scorching temperatures.
"Pigs have a low tolerance for hot temperatures and humidity," prosecutor Jason Clouston said.
Maurice had started his job two weeks earlier and had no previous experience transporting live animals, court was told.
"He was clearly over his head," Clouston said.
Maurice actually fainted at the sight of the dead and dying hogs and had to be treated by paramedics.
Defence lawyer Ralph Newman said his client's employer and Maple Leaf must share in the blame for the tragedy, saying much more should have been done in both training and offering up ways to keep the animals comfortable prior to slaughter.
Newman specifically noted the long waiting time to unload at Maple Leaf, which he said was when the bulk of the damage was done because no air was circulating. As well, Maurice couldn't figure out how to use a hose that was nearby. Newman also suggested the pigs should have been transported either late at night or early in the morning, not in the middle of a red-hot sunny day.
All of these submissions left the judge shaking his head.
"It's clear the animals' comfort and care isn't being taken seriously enough," Sandhu said. "Obviously, an animal isn't going to report on its own suffering. It only comes to light when you have deaths, or multiple deaths like this, in horrific situations."
Sandhu questioned whether too many shortcuts are being taken by those in the industry who simply view animals as "commodities... which happen to taste delicious."
Clouston agreed the Health of Animals Act may leave plenty of room for self-policing of the industry in terms of the conditions under which animals are transported. But he said there is incentive to ensure safe shipment because a dead pig means lost profit.
Earlier this year, a Manitoba hog farmer pleaded guilty to more than a dozen charges under the province's Animal Care Act for causing the deaths of more than 1,200 pigs last summer. The charges include failing to provide proper food, water, lighting, ventilation and medical attention.
Martin Albert Joseph Grenier, 39, said severe depression left him unable to cope with his business and triggered the largest animal-cruelty case ever discovered in the province. He was fined $60,000, which was more than double the previous highest financial penalty for animal cruelty ever dished out in Manitoba.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.