COLDWATER — After identifying a “direct violation” to animal welfare standards, Clemens Food Group will no longer work with two third-party haulers in the area, Michigan Farm News has learned.
The announcement Jan. 31 from Clemens, a Hatfield, Pa.-based pork processor that has a plant in Coldwater, Mich., is to ensure the “health and well-being of the animals.”
In Coldwater last week, temperatures dipped to more than 10 degrees below zero with wind chills nearing 34 degrees below zero. During the inclement weather, two sub-contracted haulers working for Clemens transported an undisclosed number of hogs, sparking some media outlets to speculate on a death total.
According to Fred Walcott of the Walkerville-based Valley View Pork LLC, those reports of hog mortality have been “extremely exaggerated.”
“I did hear that there was some frostbite for the (hogs),” said Walcott, whose farm supplies 100,000 hogs to Clemens but isn’t directly involved with the company’s recent hauling situation. “However, I just know that Clemens prescribes to the (Transportation Quality Assurance) guidelines, which my farm uses … and deals with the handling and safety of animals.”
Similarly, Clemens’ Director of Communications Keith Stahler said the company adheres to the strictest animal-handling procedures “recommended specifically to us through the input and guidance of several independent third parties, including world-renown animal welfare expert Dr. Temple Grandin.”
That’s why, according to the company, it now “prohibit(s)” the hog transport companies that directly violated “animal welfare standards” from working with Clemens again.
“Due to the severity of the situation, these hog haulers have been prohibited from delivering hogs to any Clemens Food Group facility in the future,” Stahler wrote in a company statement.
Mary Kelpinski, CEO of the Lansing-based Michigan Pork Producers Association, said the care and safety of animals are “very important to pork producers and one of the ethical principles in our We Care Pledge.”
“To help educate farmers and the people hauling our animals, the National Pork Board developed the Transport Quality Assurance (TQA) program in 2002,” she wrote in an email to Michigan Farm News. “While this is a voluntary program, many of the pork processing companies will only allow deliveries from truck drivers that have achieved TQA certification.”
According to Kelpinski, more than 28,000 handlers are certified in the TQA program, including more than 800 handlers in Michigan.
“The training program highlights transportation recommendations for all weather condition including cold weather,” Kelpinski said. “Truckers are instructed to take the weather temperature, wind chill, size of the animal and type of truck into consideration when hauling pigs.”
Kelpinski added that she didn’t know the specifics of what happened last week leading up to the announcement from Clemens, but that it “sounds like they are standing by their commitment to securing animal welfare by not working with those trucking companies in the future.”
As Stahler puts it, “Ensuring the health and well-being of the animals is our ethical obligation, and (Clemens) will continue to make no compromises when it comes to the animal welfare standards that we have in place.”