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Ask the Prime Minister to end the wildlife trade

Please urge the Prime Minister to close wildlife markets and end the international and domestic trade in wild animals

A House of Commons E-petition is calling on the Prime Minister to “to support and encourage the closure of wildlife markets globally that could become sources for future pandemics and to commit to end the international and domestic trade in wild animals and their products that could aid in the spread of zoonotic diseases.” The petition is sponsored by Michelle Rempel Garner MP.

Despite calls from experts to take more action against the global wildlife trade, which scientists believe is the most likely source of Covid-19, there has been virtually no response from Canada. That’s a shame, as there is plenty Canada could do to combat this cruel trade and improve our own safeguards against diseases from imported wildlife.

We’re urging Canadians to sign the E-petition, which is in line with campaigns by VHS and other organizations opposing the cruel and dangerous trade in wild and exotic animals. Last year, VHS launched a campaign calling on federal ministers to engage with international partners to ban the trade; devote more resources to fight the illegal wildlife trade; and to improve Canada’s systems for detecting imported wildlife diseases.  We also signed an open letter to the Prime Minister urging him to support a permanent global ban on wildlife markets.

We have also been working to bring this issue to the attention of Canadians, publishing opinion editorials in the Ottawa Citizen, Daily Hive, Georgia Straight, and Vancouver Sun.

With your support we can continue to encourage the federal government to take action against the wildlife trade.

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Opinion Editorial

Why BC’s first mink farm COVID outbreak is a very bad sign

Article originally published on Daily Hive.

News of an outbreak of COVID-19 at a mink farm in BC’s Fraser Valley is yet another warning that we need to stop the industrial exploitation of animals.

The outbreak, declared by the BC government after eight people at the site tested positive for the virus, is the first in Canada, but similar outbreaks are occurring around the world.

Last month, Denmark ordered a cull of the country’s 17 million minks to prevent the infection carrying over to humans. A mutated strain of the virus found on several mink farms had infected 12 people. The Netherlands, Italy, Sweden, Spain, Poland, Greece and several US states have reported SARS-CoV-22 in farmed minks.

Mink farms, like all factory farms, provide perfect conditions for viruses to spread and mutate because they confine large numbers of animals in cramped conditions. Farmed mink are kept in small, wire cages, denying them the ability to engage in natural behaviours. (Amendments to the code recently rescinded a commitment to provide bigger cages for mink by 2023.) As mink are semi-aquatic animals, lack of access to water for foraging makes the deprivation especially acute.

There are few laws governing the care and handling of farmed mink in Canada. Instead, there is a voluntary code of practice for the industry, with no independent enforcement. The code is overseen by the National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC), a non-governmental body with heavy representation from industrial animal agriculture.

The lack of independent enforcement and inspection in the industry creates potential for animal suffering (beyond the stress of confinement that is considered acceptable in the code).

In 2015, the BC SPCA investigated a Fraser Valley mink farm and, according to media reports, found horrific conditions: “…row upon row, roughly 70,000 mink squirmed in cages the size of two shoe boxes as heaps of their own excrement mounted on the floor beneath them.

Many were missing limbs, digits and ears, and one animal — mysteriously paralyzed — had to be euthanized on site.” No charges were laid, as the operator was given an opportunity to “clean up his act.”

In 2018, an undercover investigation of an Ontario mink farm by animal advocates found unsanitary conditions, lack of veterinary care and lesions “all over” minks’ bodies. Charges were laid against the farmer.

While the exact circumstances of the COVID-19 outbreak at the B.C. mink farm are still being investigated by Fraser Health, there is growing concern that mink farming presents a threat to human health. This includes the potential for a mutated virus from a farm to impact the efficacy of a COVID-19 vaccine.

As one scientist told the BBC: “Every time the virus spreads between animals it changes, and if it changes too much from the one that is circulating within humans at the moment, that might mean that any vaccine or treatment that will be produced soon might not work as well as it should do.”

All of this begs the question: Why do we allow an industry that already compromises animal welfare to now threaten human health, especially when it only exists to provide a luxury item for a small number of consumers?

Animal advocates have long called for an end to the fur industry on moral grounds, citing the undeniable suffering the animals endure in unnatural conditions. Now, those same conditions may be creating a threat to human welfare.

“It’s time fur farming came to an end. Before the Fraser Valley outbreak, animal advocates had been calling for the Canadian government to support a transition away from fur farming. It’s a call that deserves public support – to stop needless animal suffering and to prevent a needless risk to public health.”

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News/Blog

Proposed labelling rules could hinder plant-based food industry

Have your say before government consultation ends December 3rd

Canada’s plant-based food sector is booming but proposed government regulations may hamper the industry’s growth.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has launched a consultation on new, proposed guidelines for the labelling of “simulated” meat products and certain plant-based protein foods.

The guidelines require non-meat foods formulated to resemble and substitute for meat products to have the same nutritional components as the animal-based products. Such non-meat products must meet a meet minimum protein content, fat content and vitamin/mineral requirements of the meat product it is intended to substitute.

Yet, there is no need for meat substitutes to have the same nutritional profiles as meat products, as long as nutritional information is on the label. Consumers can compare products based on their individual and unique nutritional profiles, judging for themselves whether a product contains the levels of protein and other nutrients they are seeking. Making it mandatory for plant-based food companies to meet these requirements could unnecessarily increase costs, reducing production and investment incentives in the industry.

The guidelines also require that the word “simulated” appear on the labels of these products and be “shown in letters of at least the same size and prominence as those used in the remainder of the common name.” So, for example, a plant-based substitute for meatballs would need to say “simulated meatballs” on the label.

These requirements are also unnecessary, as consumers would understand labelling that uses terms such as “contains no meat” or “meatless” more easily than “simulated” (which also suggests it is an inferior product).  A product that is labelled “meatless steak” would cause no confusion for consumers and does not need to be described as “simulated.”

The proposed guidelines also introduce a new category of non-meat product, described as “other products which do not substitute for meat or poultry” and which “are not aiming to be like a meat product.” These include products such as veggie burgers, tofu burgers, Portobello mushroom burgers, lentil loaf, and soy patties. They would not be required to have “simulated” on the label or have a nutritional profile similar to a meat product, as long as they are not being represented as substitutes for meat or poultry.

VHS is urging Canadian consumers to take part in the CFIA’s consultation, which finishes December 3rd, and let the agency know that these regulations could be burden on Canada’s growing plant-based food industry. The consultation includes a survey that give consumers an opportunity to comment on the guidelines and make these points:

1)  Plant-based burgers, sausages, etc. should NOT be subject to fortification and compositional requirements so that they are nutritionally similar to meat or poultry products. As long as nutritional information is provided on the label, consumers can decide if the product meets their dietary needs.

2)  It is NOT challenging to distinguish meat and poultry products from products that are not made of meat or poultry. The term “simulated” may actually further confuse people.

VHS believes Canadian consumers are not confused by plant-based products that are presented as meat substitutes, as long as the labelling indicates there is no meat in the product and provides a list of ingredients along with nutritional information. Our view is: Let the consumer decide.

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Opinion Editorial

Broken promise means pigs will suffer in inhumane crates until 2029

Article originally published on Daily Hive.

The Canadian pig farming industry is breaking a promise to end the continuous use of inhumane “gestation stalls” that confine pregnant sows so tightly they are unable to turn around.

The industry committed in 2014, outlined in the industry’s Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Pigs, to end the continuous use of gestation stalls and to transition toward group housing (which provides space to allow pigs to move more freely) by 2024.

Pig farmers are now seeking to delay the transition until 2029, despite being given 10 years to make the change. The industry says it can’t meet its commitment by 2024 because of a lack of preparedness and financial issues.

The delay could be granted by the National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC), the industry-dominated body that oversees codes of practice for the care and handling of pigs. If so, it will result in hundreds of thousands of pregnant pigs continuing to suffer in the cramped stalls.

The Retail Council of Canada, which represents major grocery retailers in the country, also supported the planned transition away from gestation stalls, saying in 2014 that it was committed to “sourcing pork products from sows raised in alternative housing practices as defined in the updated Codes by the end of 2022.” The council has not said whether it will stand by its commitment now that it appears the pork industry may renege on its commitment.

Animal welfare experts have described gestation stalls as extreme animal confinement equivalent to living in an airline seat.

Dr. Ian Duncan, Emeritus Chair in Animal Welfare at the University of Guelph, has stated: “In my opinion, the practice of keeping sows in gestation crates for most of their pregnancy is one of the cruellest forms of confinement devised by humankind. Sows are intelligent, inquisitive animals who naturally spend their time rooting, foraging and exploring their environment. When kept in extensive conditions, sows engage in various behaviours and lead a rich social life. All of this is completely denied them by gestation crates and leads to enormous frustration.”

Polling has shown that 84% of Canadians support a complete phase-out of gestations stalls. The European Union and several states in the US have banned the stalls.

The Vancouver Humane Society (VHS) has launched a campaign calling on the public to urge the pork industry and the Retail Council of Canada to stand by their commitments to transition to group housing.

“The pork industry and the retail council promised to end the cruel practice of extreme, long-term confinement,” said VHS campaign director Emily Pickett.

“Canadians need to hold them to account and let them know that they don’t want to see pigs continue to suffer in this way.”

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Opinion Editorial

Pork industry should keep its promise to end inhumane practice

Article originally published in The Georgia Straight.

Life for pigs on Canada’s factory farms was set to change for the better thanks to a hard-won animal-welfare reform that would end the continuous confinement of pregnant sows in inhumane “gestation stalls”.

But Canadian pig farmers are saying, “Not so fast.”

The Canadian pig-farming industry made a commitment in 2014, as outlined in the industry’s Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Pigs, to end the continuous use of gestation stalls and to transition toward group housing (which allows pigs to move more freely) by 2024.

The stalls confine sows so tightly that they are unable to engage in natural behaviours or even turn around.

Now the industry is pushing to delay the phase-out of gestation crates to 2029, citing lack of preparedness and financial difficulties. Despite being given 10 years to make the transition, the industry says it’s incapable of meeting its commitment by 2024.

If the delay is granted by the National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC), the industry-dominated body that oversees codes of practice for the care and handling of pigs, it will result in hundreds of thousands of pregnant pigs continuing to suffer in the cramped stalls.

In 2014, the Retail Council of Canada, which represents major grocery retailers in Canada, supported the planned transition away from gestation stalls, saying it was committed to “sourcing pork products from sows raised in alternative housing practices as defined in the updated Codes by the end of 2022”.

It’s now unclear whether the council will stand by its commitment.

Animal-welfare scientists, veterinarians, and other experts have described gestation stalls as extreme animal confinement and the equivalent to living in an airline seat.

Ian Duncan, emeritus chair in animal welfare at the University of Guelph, has stated: “In my opinion, the practice of keeping sows in gestation crates for most of their pregnancy is one of the cruelest forms of confinement devised by humankind. Sows are intelligent, inquisitive animals who naturally spend their time rooting, foraging, and exploring their environment. When kept in extensive conditions, sows engage in a wide variety of behaviour and lead a rich social life. All of this is completely denied them by gestation crates and leads to enormous frustration.”

And it seems the public agrees with that opinion. A 2013 Environics poll revealed that 84 percent of Canadians support a complete phase-out of gestations stalls.

The European Union announced a ban on sow stalls in 2013, allowing an 11-year phase-out period and exemptions for the first four weeks of a sow’s pregnancy. Currently, 10 states, including Florida, Ohio, and Arizona, have voter-approved statutes that ban gestation crates on commercial farms.

The pork industry in Canada essentially made a promise to end the cruel practice of extreme long-term confinement. Perhaps they think Canadians will not hold them to that promise as they quietly kick their ethical responsibilities into the future, hoping no one will notice. But such a calculation will only erode trust in the industry.

A 2018 Canadian Centre for Food Integrity survey showed that only 31 percent of respondents agree that Canadian meat is derived humanely from farm animals, and 61 percent are unsure. Public trust, accountability, and transparency in our food system is important to Canadians, and the pork industry must uphold its commitment to consumers to end the use of gestation stalls by 2024. It made a promise and it should keep it.

The public can comment on the National Farm Animal Care Council’s proposed amendments to the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Pigs here. The deadline is November 19.

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Media Release

Has COVID-19 made life harder for pets and their guardians?

Research project will examine the impact of the pandemic on people and their pets to learn how they can be helped to deal with future disasters

Vancouver – The Vancouver Humane Society (VHS) and Dalhousie University are launching a joint research project to identify hardships faced by people and their pets as a result of COVID-19 and to find ways to protect them in the event of similar emergencies in future.

“Anecdotally, we know the pandemic has made life difficult for both people and their animals,” said VHS executive director Amy Morris. “People are struggling to pay vet bills. Veterinary services have been under strain. People are being faced with the decision of having to give up or euthanize their four-legged companions, who are serving as their mental health supports. We want to prevent this from happening in future.”

Morris said research has shown that the human-animal bond is important to the health of both people and their animal companions. The joint research project will examine how the pandemic has affected that bond and what measures could be taken to make it more resilient. This could include improving access to social, health and veterinary services for pet owners in crisis.

Dr. Haorui Wu, Assistant Professor at the School of Social Work at Dalhousie University, said the research could lead to better support for people and their animals facing adversity. “Healthy human-animal bonds play a vital role in strengthening the resilience capacities of pet guardians and their animals, to prepare for, respond to, adapt to, and recover from extreme events.”

The project is being funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Partnership Engage Grants.

-ends-

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News/Blog

Speak out for sled dogs

Sign the pledge not to take part in sled dog tours

Sled dogs are tethered for long periods and it is still legal to shoot surplus dogs

Speak out for sled dogs

Who can forget it? The 2010 killing of 56 sled dogs in Whistler shocked B.C. and made headlines around the world. The public outcry prompted government intervention but has life really changed for sled dogs?

Many questioned whether justice was served when the sled dog tour company employee who killed the dogs was sentenced to three years’ probation, a $1,500 fine, 200 hours of community service, and a ten year firearms ban. It was alleged he had been instructed by the company to “cull” the dogs due to a downturn in business following the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Nevertheless, there was hope that public outrage would lead to positive change. The “Whistler sled dog massacre,” as it came to be known, shone a light on the sled dog tour industry and its treatment of the dogs. The provincial government responded with a code of practice and standards of care for the industry. But the effectiveness of these actions has long been questioned.

In a sad irony, it is still legal for tour companies in B.C. to shoot surplus sled dogs, provided the operator has “made reasonable efforts to rehome the sled dog, but those efforts have been unsuccessful” and the operator follows certain guidelines (as illustrated below).

A major problem with the provincial government’s regulation of care standards for sled dogs is lack of enforcement. This became clear when the regulation was introduced and no government funding was allocated to the BC SPCA to enforce the regulations. Tour operations are not inspected and action can only be taken if a complaint is made to the BC SPCA. In short, no one is watching to ensure regulations are followed.

Although the sled dog standards of care were a step forward, they did not ban tethering or chaining of dogs, which VHS and many animal advocates had called for. The standards only require that: “An operator must ensure that each sled dog is released from its containment area at least once in each 24-hour period, for the purposes of socialization and exercise.” This means a dog could be tethered for 23 out of 24 hours with violating the regulations.

Tethering is a contentious subject, with sled dog tour industry claiming it is humane while many animal advocates call for it to be banned. The 2016 documentary Sled Dogs, which revealed how tethering is the norm in the industry, quoted animal behaviour and animal welfare scientist Dr. Rebecca Ledger: “When they’re tethered they may live in community with other dogs, but that’s not a community – it’s a prison.”

The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association’s Code of Practice for Canadian Kennel Operations states that “Tethering of dogs (i.e., chains or ropes used to tie the dog to an immoveable object such as a stake or building) is not allowable as a method of confining a dog to a primary enclosure, nor as the only means of containment.”  If true for a dog kennel, why not for a sled dog kennel?

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News/Blog

This month is Free Wills Month

For October is Free Wills Month and you have the chance to support our work for years to come by leaving a legacy for the animals. If you are an animal lover aged 55 or over, from October 1-31, you have a unique opportunity to either make a new will or revise your current will, for free! There is absolutely no obligation to include a charity in your will in order to participate. This is the last year the VHS is participating in this program, and a great opportunity to plan for the future.
 
You can have a simple will written or updated free of charge through lawyers participating in this campaign. If you’d like to participate or get more information, please visit the Free Wills website. If you have any questions, please contact Claire Yarnold at 604 266 9744 or email claire@vancouverhumanesociety.bc.ca.

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News/Blog

Treating people and their pets with dignity

For many people, their pet is their lifeline and mental health support. We know from separation anxiety, cuddles, and protective behaviours that the feeling is mutual! Across Canada, people face difficult decisions as they struggle with poverty, and sometimes those decisions involve the well-being of themselves and their best friend. VHS received a two-year grant from the B.C. government to create a training program for animal services providers to ensure their programs provide trauma-informed care to people and their pets. We’ve recruited Celeste Morales as Lead Researcher to do this work. Celeste has a Master’s in Sociology and wrote her thesis on poverty reduction. (See full bio.) Welcome Celeste!

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News/Blog

VHS supports pets in need due to Covid-19

Calls have been pouring in to our veterinary assistance hotline as the COVID-19 shutdowns continue. Each month, more and more people are experiencing financial crisis. They are stressed and worried; the sighs of relief are tangible when our program coordinator, Terri, confirms that their pet can be helped. We would not have been able to help all the cases that come to us without the financial support from the Community Response Fund, made possible by the Vancouver Foundation, Vancity Credit Union, United Way Lower Mainland, and the City of Vancouver. They provided $10,000 to ensure we are able tomeet the increased demand for the program. Thank you also to our donors who give generously to the McVitie program!