Calgary Co-op Members in Favour of 'Ethical' Eggs, Pork

CANADA - Calgary Co-op has staked out a bold animal welfare stance, despite opposition from agriculture leaders who warned that the industry needs more time to change its farming practices.
calendar icon 18 March 2013
clock icon 5 minute read

At their annual general meeting Wednesday (13 March, Co-op members voted 97-67 in favour of a resolution calling for the retailer to phase out the sale of eggs and pork produced using intensive confinement cages. The original motion called for the phase-out to happen over a three-year period, although an amendment extended the deadline to five years.

Clint Robertson, the member who made the motion, was passionate in his condemnation of "battery cages" and "gestation stalls". The two housing systems — the former for hens, the latter for sows — are used in the production of the vast majority of eggs and pork that end up on grocery store shelves, but are criticized by animal rights advocates for the way they keep animals in close quarters without the freedom to move around or engage in natural behaviour.

"Calgary Co-op is supposed to do things a little differently. Maximizing profit isn’t supposed to be the ultimate goal," Mr Robertson said. "This is not the way animals are supposed to live."

Mr Robertson’s motion was met with applause and even cheers from some in the room, but at least one member questioned how much food prices at Co-op would rise as a result. And several agriculture industry representatives rose to argue that farmers are trying to do what’s best for their animals, but can’t change their practices overnight.

Jim Haggins, past-chairman of Alberta Pork, said the already struggling pork industry would be devastated if it was suddenly forced to invest millions of dollars in changes to its barns. He pointed out that Calgary Co-op already offers free-run and free-range eggs and organic pork for consumers who want those products and are willing to pay for them.

"Our industry wants to survive, and these are challenging times right now," Mr Haggins said. "We’d like the Calgary Co-op and other retailers to work with the industry associations. To support this resolution today will mean reduced choice and higher cost."

Several egg farmers — including Ben Waldner, chairman of Egg Farmers of Alberta — said the industry is already moving on its own toward more modern animal housing practices and an edict from grocery stores will only make things difficult.

Co-op spokeswoman Cindy Drummond said while the originally proposed three-year deadline was likely unrealistic, the results of Wednesday’s vote mean animal welfare is a top-of-mind issue for Co-op members. She said the board and management will now work with Federated Co-operatives Ltd. as well as producer groups to try to find a way to meet their members’ wishes.

"This is just another opportunity to work with the industry and show that Calgary Co-op can be a leader. If we can do it, then other retailers can do it as well," Ms Drummond said.

Calgary Co-op’s decision is not the first time a grocery store or fast food chain has taken a stand on this issue. Tim Hortons Inc. made headlines last year by calling for an end to gestation stall use, saying it would give preference to pork suppliers who could demonstrate clear plans to phase out the practice.

Tim Hortons also announced it would boost the number of eggs it buys from producers who use enriched housing systems.

Other fast food chains, including Burger King and McDonald’s, have committed to holding their suppliers to a higher animal welfare standard. The US division of grocery chain Safeway Inc. has announced plans to move toward a stall-free supply chain.

Sayara Thurston, a campaigner with the Canadian chapter of Humane Society International, applauded Calgary Co-op’s move. She said each time a new retailer moves in this direction, it makes it more likely others will follow suit.

"Over the last 12 months, we’ve had so many retailers stand up and call for better animal welfare practices in their supply chains," Thurston said. "I think it already is at a tipping point. Industry is responding and they’re going to have to continue to respond, or else they’re going to run out of customers."

Calgary Co-op is one of the largest retail co-operatives in North America, with more than 44,000 members and annual sales of more than $1 billion.

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