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Olymel and animal welfare:
a moral and social obligation

Throughout its history, Olymel has adopted the best practices in its field. The practices it adopts for treatment of live animals meet the highest standards of animal welfare.

As a major producer and processor of pork and poultry meats, Olymel requires that its employees and suppliers treat the animals with the greatest respect. From breeding and shipping to slaughtering, our company meets the highest standards of animal welfare and has adopted a consistent policy in this area.

A chicken, a turkey and a pork

Ensuring animal welfare: a fundamental value

From breeding and shipping to receiving, handling and slaughtering, Olymel scrupulously respects the regulations of oversight agencies, ensuring that its practices comply with--and even exceed--standards in force.

Beyond the regulatory aspect, the humane treatment of animals is not just a priority; it is one of the company's fundamental values--a value to which all employees are asked to subscribe.

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Several years ago, Olymel set up a program covering all aspects of animal welfare and humane treatment of animals. All operations in our institutions are under the jurisdiction of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).


Concrete actions: employee training and zero tolerance for abuse

In accordance with its policy and corporate commitment to animal welfare, Olymel has also developed codes of practice for the employees of its slaughterhouses. The management of each facility is responsible for applying best practice codes, raising awareness and ensuring adequate training of all staff involved in handling animals.

Any action that might affect the welfare of live animals or inflict unnecessary suffering, and any disrespectful behaviour toward animals, are subject to zero tolerance and may result in sanctions.

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The staff of our slaughterhouses, in both the pork sector and the poultry sector, receives training to give them a good knowledge of animal behaviour and fundamental principles of animal well-being, so they can control sources of stress and prevent injury. Our supervisors must also ensure that all equipment is serviced and maintained in a condition that prevents unnecessary suffering, whether in receiving areas, lairage or during stunning. This training is mandatory and repeated annually.

Olymel closely follows the debates surrounding animal treatment and the work of experts and scientists to enhance animal welfare, and regularly collaborates with its partners in the hog production and poultry production industries. Our company encourages the development of practices designed to achieve the highest standards of animal welfare and meet the high expectations of the public and our customers.


The Olymel hog suppliers' CQA program, for animals welfare from farm to plant

Hog producers that supply Olymel slaughterhouses have implemented the Canadian Quality Assurance Program (CQA), a framework that includes a large component dealing with animal welfare.

Olymel ensures that animal breeding and shipping conditions, and the handling of animals from farm to slaughterhouse, meet the highest standards of animal welfare. And once a year, our shippers must undergo an audit to evaluate their practices.

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Our procurement agents must ensure that all suppliers have the proper certifications and that their employees have received adequate training if they are assigned to animal handling.

This program is recognized by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and satisfies this federal government agency's requirements.

Coop certified

La Coop certified pork: strict guidelines for animal welfare

In recent years, Olymel, together with its principal owner, La Coop, has embarked on development of a hog supply chain in order to combine the efforts of the entire production chain and achieve the highest quality standards.

Many of the poultry producers have also set up programs on their farms similar to those in hog production operations. Among these high standards, animal welfare figures prominently in the application of the La Coop certified pork supply chain's very stringent specifications.

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Best practices in force include:

  • Fasting of the animal must be done between 16 and 24 hours before slaughtering, since a hog that is fasted before loading is easier to handle and the risk of injury or death is lower;
  • Animal transport: all shippers of La Coop certified Hogs have received Transport Quality Assurance (TQA) training, and inspections are performed on a regular basis to monitor compliance with the requirements of the specifications;
  • Electric prod banned: the use of electric prods is prohibited.

Our slaughterhouses under high-level surveillance

All our slaughterhouses must meet the highest standards of animal welfare. Olymel relies on a professional staff as well as several outside experts to develop its programs and monitor implementation.

To maintain these standards at the highest levels, we perform internal audits on a continuous basis at all levels of responsibility, from slaughtering supervisors and quality assurance departments in the facilities right up to the corporate level.

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Our "animal welfare" audit checklists are based on objectively quantifiable measurements. Our animal welfare practices are evaluated annually for our customers by third parties. Inspectors and veterinarians from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) continually monitor and inspect our animal treatment practices.


The strictest hog slaughtering protocol, without stress or suffering

In the pig slaughtering industry, the process of receiving animals is governed by several strict rules. All necessary measures are taken to respect the animals' integrity in order to ensure their comfort, minimize stress, prevent injury and avoid suffering.

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Unloading ramps must be adjusted to prevent injury, floors must be non-slip, lighting must not dazzle the animals, noise must be kept to a minimum and drafts must be avoided. Animals must move at their own pace without being rushed.

Wounded animals must be examined by a veterinarian. The presence of a watering trough, spraying during hot periods and sufficient space for the animals to lie down are some of the many measures designed to avoid stress. Lastly, in order to prevent suffering, hogs and must be properly stunned by the application of electrodes (electrical stunning) before bleeding according to a strict protocol.

Chicken and Turkey

Strict procedures for poultry slaughtering: delicate handling and stunning

Several years ago, Olymel developed a training and audit program for teams of workers responsible for catching and caging poultry for shipment to the slaughterhouse.

Handling of birds arriving at the slaughterhouse involves special procedures. The poultry must be treated with the greatest possible care to avoid stress, injury and suffering.

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The birds must not be lifted by the head, neck or wings. Among the requirements for reception of poultry in our slaughterhouses are a sufficient number of fans, the use of misters in warm periods, soft lighting and a shelter with adequate capacity. The waiting time must be as short as possible.

The birds are stunned prior to bleeding (mechanical) by the application of an electric current to the head when they are in a tub of salt water. This method results in immediate loss of consciousness without unnecessary suffering.

Person reading

Olymel relies on the expertise of world-renowned specialist Dr. Temple Grandin

Dr. Temple GrandinOlymel develops its animal welfare programs based, among other things, on the internationally recognized expertise of Dr. Temple Grandin, a leading specialist on the humane treatment of animals. Olymel follows Temple Grandin's work and achievements with great interest, and often adopts her recommendations.

Dr. Grandin was even a guest of the Olymel slaughterhouse and pork butchering facility at Vallée-Jonction in the Beauce on July 31, 2012.

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A professor at Colorado State University who holds a Doctorate in Animal Sciences, Temple Grandin is a specialist on animal living conditions and an internationally recognized expert in the design of equipment for use with livestock. Olymel places great trust in Temple Grandin's observations and expertise.

Dr. Temple Grandin and the team
Credit : Maxime Charron

Left to right: Éric Bienvenue, Vice President, Operations, Pork, Olymel; Marie-Josée Turgeon, Coordinator, La Coop Certified Pork, La Coop fédérée; Maico Rodrigue, Manager of the Olymel plant at Vallée-Jonction; Dr. Temple Grandin, Alexandre Dionne, Coordinator, Quality and Process Improvement, Olymel plant at Vallée-Jonction; Josée Niquette, Coordinator, La Coop Certified Pork, La Coop fédérée; Michel Poirier, Manager, Production, Olymel plant at Vallée-Jonction, Étienne Hardy, Senior Manager, Hog Production, Animal Production Sector, La Coop fédérée.


CO2 stunning of turkeys: a first in Canada

In the spring of 2011, Olymel and its partner Exceldor marked a first in Canada by modernizing the turkey slaughtering system in the Unidindon plant at St-Jean-Baptiste-de-Rouville, Montérégie.

Unloading of trailers is fully automated, avoiding stressful handling of birds and injuries. The cages containing the turkeys are then automatically conveyed through a tunnel in which the birds are anaesthetized with CO2 without unnecessary stress or suffering in a process that meets the highest standards of animal welfare.

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The Unidindon factory, co-owned by Olymel (68%) and Exceldor (32%) has completely transformed its slaughtering system by installing advanced equipment for stunning turkeys with CO2, a method approved by Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and also practiced in Europe and the United States.

This conversion came in response to a particular problem in the turkey industry, where the birds are much larger than chickens and can even reach a weight of 18 kilograms. This new process required that shipping trailers be reconfigured to receive larger cages.

Olymel is always on the lookout for research findings that result in new technologies that can be adapted for its operations in order to further achieve the most humane possible treatment of animals.

sows and piglets

Olymel's position on abandoning gestation crates for sows

As part of its ongoing efforts to achieve the most humane treatment of animals possible, Olymel has adopted a position on the use of gestation crates for sows.

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In Canada, the National Farm Animal Care Council coordinates the evaluation of codes of practice for animal welfare in collaboration with experts, groups and companies operating in this field. The Code, which was developed in 1993, is currently being revised. Olymel is following this process closely and contributes to the consultation process.

The confinement of pregnant sows in the swine production cycle has been the subject of considerable debate, and several countries--European Union countries in particular--have already enacted regulations for the abolition of this practice and its replacement by loose housing operations. In recent years, many Canadian and foreign customers have announced their intention to procure pork products from hogs born in loose housing in the more or less long term.

Olymel feels that the abolition of gestation cages is inevitable and that the Canadian hog production industry will have no choice but to respond positively to this requirement. However, our company believes that Canadian producers need a transition and adaptation period to implement loose housing operations. At the end of 2012, Olymel estimated that such a transitional period should extend over a decade, and that in 2022, 100% of hogs slaughtered in facilities in Canada would come from free housing farm operations.

However, considering the magnitude of the changes required and in order not to compromise the profitability or even the viability of their businesses, Olymel believes that pork producers will need both time and financial support to carry out the conversion of their facilities to free housing. In view of this challenge, Olymel will spare no effort to support them, and encourages all industry partners and governments to do the same.