"Ag-gag" legislation is silently sweeping across the nation, and both Hog Watch Manitoba and the Winnipeg Humane Society have serious concerns. The term "ag-gag" refers to any piece of legislation which stifles the ability of concerned civilians to document and report animal cruelty and abuse inflicted upon farm animals.
On March 10, the Manitoba government publicly released Bill 62 and Bill 63, which seek to make it illegal for Manitobans to not only document farm animals during transportation, but to bear witness to all livestock (including horses) in transport trucks, production facilities and slaughterhouses.
Factory-style hog barns that are dominating the hog industry now are a far cry from the family farms that many of the public still envision. The pigs are never outside, but are constantly confined in large facilities with slatted floors, through which their urine and feces fall to pits below. The toxic fumes, ammonia and hydrogen sulphide emanating from the pits will suffocate the animals within a couple of hours if the ventilation systems fail.
The imminent danger of ag-gag legislation being passed in this province means these Manitoban pigs will have no one advocating for their welfare. There will be no way for Canadian consumers to know of the inhumane conditions these pigs endure. Instead, the general public will be at the mercy of the industry’s secretive treatment of farm animals.
In addition to the above legislation, the two groups have learned that Canadian Hog Producers plan to delay the deadline for getting rid of gestation stalls in hog barns. The industry deems gestation stalls as a completely humane and acceptable way to confine sows, even though the animals are so severely restricted that they can take only a step or two forward or backward.
According to the Code of Practice for Pigs, hog producers were previously mandated to replace their intensive confinement systems (gestation stalls) with open housing systems by 2024. This agreement was reached in 2014, which will have given producers 10 years to make this change. However, this deadline is now at risk of being extended to 2029, allowing sows to remain in the cruel, restrictive gestation crates for an additional five years.
Gestation stalls are one of the worst examples of the industrialization of animal agriculture. They are metal crates whose dimensions are two metres by 0.6 metres, in which the female pigs (sows) are housed from the age of six months until they are culled at around two years of age. The sows are only moved out of those stalls a few days before they give birth, at which point they are transferred to farrowing stalls that have the same size restrictions for the sow, but have some room around the edges for the piglets to move around.
Sows spend their entire lives having to eat, sleep and relieve themselves in the same mind-numbing tiny space, with no ability to turn around or even walk.
The use of these stalls is not only inhumane, but contributes to the concentration of thousands of animals in small spaces producing vast amounts of manure that is then applied to nearby land. Manitoba claims the dubious distinction of having the highest number of pigs per farm, 5,563 — more than double the next highest in Quebec, at 2,350.
Many other countries around the world have already stopped the use of gestation stalls, including the EU, the UK and Australia. It is long past time for Canada to follow suit and stop this inhumane practice, and for Canadians to vehemently oppose ag-gag legislation within Manitoba.
The Winnipeg Humane Society and Hog Watch Manitoba urge supporters to contact their MLAs and demand that they oppose the proposed ag-gag legislation becoming law in Manitoba.
Vicki Burns is a member of the Hog Watch Manitoba steering committee and Brittany Semeniuk is an animal welfare consultant with the Winnipeg Humane Society.