Maple Leaf Foods earns honours as $660M London plant nears completion


Source: London Free Press

Maple Leaf Foods has won global honours for its ethical treatment of animals, as its new massive factory continues to rise in south London.

The chicken processor has been ranked as one of the global leaders in animal welfare by the Business Benchmark on Farm Animal Welfare (BBFAW) that measures “policy commitment, performance and disclosure on animal welfare” in the food industry, the company said in a statement.

“Maple Leaf Foods is values-driven and deeply committed to providing the highest level of welfare to animals in our care. Our customers expect it and our animals deserve it,” said Kathleen Long, vice-president of animal care at Maple Leaf.

“We strive for ongoing, continuous improvement in our animal care programs.”

The benchmark reviewed 150 companies in 25 countries and Maple Leaf ranked in the second tier of best performing businesses with 11 other companies. Only four businesses took the top tier.

Maple Leaf is the only Canadian firm to win the honour and one of two protein processors in North America to win global recognition.Maple Leaf is building a $660-million, 640,000 square-foot (57,600-square-metre) chicken processing plant on Wilton Grove Road that is expected to open late this year. The plant will employ about 1,500 workers.

The London plant will be one of the three largest chicken processing plants in the world, said Ben Brooks, senior vice-president and general manager of Maple Leaf.

“The London build is going really well,” he said. “We have completed the majority of the building and we’re now starting to fill it with equipment. Testing on installed equipment has begun. We expect to complete construction by the second half of this year and to start supplying customers from the London facility later this year.”

Maple Leaf plans to consolidate production from existing plants in St. Marys, Bradford and Schomberg at the London plant.“We want to bring as much of that experience to London as we possibly can. In mid-April, we will start meeting with team members at existing Maple Leaf facilities to provide them with information about the new plant,” Brooks said.

As for why Maple Leaf won the animal care award, Long pointed to a recent full conversion of sow barns to an “advanced open sow housing system” that enables sows to eat, socialize, play and rest, whenever they choose.

In addition the company uses trucks with hydraulic lifts to reduce “pig stress” when boarding and exiting trucks.

Maple Leaf also uses temperature-controlled poultry trailers to protect chickens from extreme cold weather. The food company uses “enrichments” in the nursery and sow barns “to encourage pigs to play and chew as they naturally would.”

Natural behaviour is also encouraged among chickens to “hide, perch and peck,” as they normally would, so chickens can stay active.

Maple Leaf Foods is also among North America’s largest producers of pork and poultry raised without antibiotics.

Consumers are likely to see better treatment of animals as an indication that food produced by the company is of better quality, with care taken in its production, said Sylvain Charlebois, a national food industry analyst.

“Ethical treatment of animals is a sign a company follows strict guidelines, that they have the highest standards,” he said. “Maple Leaf has invested heavily in new technology and automation.”

But for those concerned about the treatment of animals “there is no such thing as humane meat,” added Vicki Van Linden, board member of the Animal Alliance of Canada.

“This is difficult for me to process. The truth is there is no humane way to raise large numbers of animals when the profit is from a dead carcass. You can’t say you respect the animal.”