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Moose Jaw pork plant expansion receives funds to fight disease

B.C.-owned company invests $13 million in plant renovation
An upgraded section of the Moose Jaw sow plant, as seen from 24th Avenue Northwest.

Moose Jaw’s sow processing plant is receiving is receiving $1 million from the Saskatchewan government and Sask Pork to help the venue address an African swine fever outbreak.

The provincial agriculture ministry is contributing $700,000 to support swine disease mitigation efforts, while Sask Pork is chipping in $300,000 toward a swine market disruption plan that will help the industry respond to potential market closures due to an animal health emergency such as African swine fever (ASF).

ASF is a viral disease that only affects pigs and, to date, has never been detected in Canada.

North 49 Foods, the company that will manage the plant, will use the funding to create a cull line that the province said will allow for “humane slaughter of domestic hogs if a serious swine disease outbreak ever temporarily stopped trade.”

Culled sows are older female animals and may experience lower productivity due to their age.

“Ensuring Saskatchewan’s pork industry is positioned to respond to a potential market disruption and safeguard animal welfare is key to the continued success of the sector,” North 49 Foods’ CEO Allan Leung said. “We are pleased to play a role in this important plan.”

British Columbia-based Donald’s Fine Foods, the parent company of North 49 Foods and operator of Thunder Creek Pork Inc., has been talking with the province and Sask Pork about this issue for more than a year, said Neil Ketilson, industry relations manager for Donald’s Fine Foods. Both parties know that ASF is “an incredibly difficult disease and could create all kinds of havoc.”

When Donald’s Fine Foods began renovating and expanding the former XL Beef Plant, Ketilson said the province asked if the company would consider incorporating a cull line, and it agreed. 

Pigs that are euthanized because of African swine fever would likely not enter the food supply chain, Ketilson said. However, work is still happening on this issue, “so that’s an open question.”
“African swine fever is a disease that, if Canada gets one case anywhere in the country, none of the existing packers would be able to export any pork outside our borders; they’d be closed,” he continued. 

An outbreak of ASF would have an immediate, major effect on the industry, from producers to packers, Ketilson added. There are many animals in the production pipeline at various stages of growth, so the industry would have to determine what to do with them if the market closed.

Meanwhile, construction at the sow processing plant continues. Ketilson described it as “a work in progress.” There’s no firm timeline for completion because the company is having trouble sourcing certain equipment. 

“So we’re at the mercy of that equipment getting here and being able to put in place and get the plant operational,” Ketilson said. “Certainly, we’re hoping for this spring or second quarter (to open).”

The British Columbia-based company purchased the former beef plant in May 2020, and in June 2021, took out a building permit of $12.7 million to convert the venue located on 24th Avenue Northwest. That conversion work began in August 2021.  

The company had planned to open the new sow processing plant in early 2022 but pushed that date back – initially to the summer – because of supply chain issues and acquiring equipment. 

The XL Beef plant closed in 2010 when the company shut down rather than meet the demands of 200 striking workers.