Happy Meat in Manitoba

Savvy Winnipeg shoppers with a distaste for factory farming are giving rave reviews to meat endorsed by the city’s humane society.

Since the program was launched three weeks ago, four Winnipeg grocers have been enjoying brisk sales of pork and turkey bearing the Winnipeg Humane Society’s seal of approval. Eggs and chicken certified by the organization are expected to arrive in stores in the next few weeks.

Producers who supply meat endorsed by the humane society must meet a set of standards that include minimum living-space requirements for animals, no growth hormones or antibiotics, no caging and mandatory third-party barn inspections.

The program marks the first time meat endorsed by an animal welfare group has been sold in Canada.

Tony Costanzo says demand for the meat at his La Grotta Mediterranean Market has been high. He says the higher price — about a dollar more per kilogram than meat without the humane society’s seal âe" hasn’t dissuaded customers.

“There’s been a lot of response,” he said. “Last week during Easter I ran right out.”

Vicki Burns, the humane society’s executive director, concedes the certification program won’t put an end to factory farming but might eventually pressure large-scale producers to consider abandoning some of the practices that put animals in constant distress.

“Really, what we’re trying to do is nudge the livestock industries into moving toward a more humane way of producing,” Burns said.

According to data provided by the humane society, 90 per cent of the 7-million pigs born each year in Manitoba are raised on factory farms, usually in crowded pens with concrete or slatted metal floors. The organization says sows are kept in gestation crates too narrow for the animal to turn around. Hens raised to lay eggs, the society says, have an average living space of just 413 square centimetres, approximately the size of a mousepad.

“We’re trying to get rid of the very stressful, very intensive confinement the animals are kept in. Their lives are filled with chronic suffering because of their living areas,” Burns said.

Five pork and poultry producers currently supply the society-certified meat, although the organization has had calls from more than a dozen others interested in the program.

Shelagh MacDonald, the program director for the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, said other Canadian animal welfare groups are watching the Winnipeg certification program with keen interest.

MacDonald says the SPCA in British Columbia has been working to get a similar certification system off the ground and will begin endorsing more-humane meat as early as April 17. She said the Ontario SPCA is hoping to launch a similar certification program in coming months. Burns noted the Regina Humane Society is also considering the initiative.

Both Burns and MacDonald say the Winnipeg Humane Society’s certification program has opened the door to the possibility of a national animal welfare group-sponsored system for endorsing more-humane meat.

SPCAs in the United Kingdom and Australia have long endorsed meat produced under more-humane conditions. In the United States, the American Humane Association issues endorsement seals to producers who adhere to certain standards as part of its Free Farmed program.

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