VHS speaks out against proposed delay to pig housing transition

In November, proposed changes to Canada’s pig farming standards prompted VHS to launch a new advocacy campaign focused on pig welfare. The National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC), composed mostly of representatives from the animal agriculture industry, creates ‘codes of practice’ that serve as standards for the industry.

In 2014, NFACC’s update to the pig code of practice included a commitment to end the continuous use of gestation stalls for pregnant pigs and to transition to open housing by 2024. Gestation stalls are individual stalls that are so small that pigs are unable to turn around or engage in any natural behaviours. Animal welfare scientists, veterinarians and other experts have described gestation stalls as one of the cruelest forms of animal confinement and the equivalent to living in an airline seat. Meanwhile, the Retail Council of Canada, which represents grocery retailers, promised a similar move, through product sourcing, away from gestation stalls and toward alternative housing by the end of 2022.

Now, NFACC is attempting to extend their gestation stall deadline until 2029, leaving thousands of pregnant pigs to continue suffering in gestation stalls. VHS’s campaign called on the industry and Retail Council to keep their original housing transition commitments. To date, more than 4100 VHS supporters have joined us in speaking up for pigs. VHS will continue to monitor this important welfare issue moving forward.


Report highlights best practices for providing low-cost veterinary services

What’s the best way to support people and their pets in need? Grateful for funding we received from the Vancouver Foundation, we explored this question from a few different perspectives. The outcome? A report and a webinar (both available here).

This new report, which has been translated into French and was sent to nearly 1000 animal service agencies across the country, highlights how important it is to provide care from a trauma-informed and ‘One Welfare’ perspective. This means providing services that recognize the experiences of marginalized people and giving them time and space to tell their story and express their needs. It also includes, at times, serving as a translator between the veterinarian and the client. We all know that in a time of stress it can be difficult to remember the instructions from a veterinarian. This can be even more intense for low-income individuals who are experiencing other stressors in their lives.

Do pets experience trauma? Research suggests that they do, particularly from grief around the loss of a loved one. We knew that people suffered when they had to give up their loyal animal companions because they couldn’t afford to pay for veterinary care. Now, we’ve learned that we must consider the experience of the animal, too.

We also learned about the importance of building trusting relationships with the clients we serve and finding out all of the barriers they experience to accessing care. Some marginalized folks have been discriminated against, such as being asked to pay for a veterinary visit up front while privileged folks at the same clinic are invoiced at the end of the visit. We learned about people being told that they couldn’t have their pet back until they paid in full (which is not a legal practice, but they weren’t aware of their rights).

We know this is just the beginning of this work. By the end of 2021, we aim to have a training program launched for animal service agencies across the country to apply a trauma-informed lens when they are serving marginalized clients. It will mean better outcomes for both people and animals.


Solving Bubble’s troubles

When 16-year-old Bubble began having trouble urinating, her loving guardian Hailey made multiple trips to different veterinary clinics. They were all unsuccessful at diagnosing the issue. Bubble’s symptoms started recurring at a frequent and concerning rate, so Hailey reached out to the McVitie Fund for assistance.

“Bubble is suspected to have chronic feline idiopathic cystitis … vets that I visited recommended doing an abdominal ultrasound/x-ray as a final diagnosis to rule out cancer or tumours,” said Hailey. “Seeing your own fur-baby in excruciating pain while knowing you don’t have the means to provide treatment is one of the most heart-wrenching feelings in the world.”

Bubble has since had an ultrasound, which identified a small amount of abdominal tissue in her bladder. This will be monitored over the coming months in case surgery is required. Hailey told VHS that otherwise Bubble is doing well and only showing a few signs of her age!

Media Release

Undercover video shows dogs chained, pacing at Whistler sled dog kennel

Vancouver – Video taken by animal advocates and provided to the Vancouver Humane Society (VHS) allegedly shows sled dogs being held in cages and on chains in a barren yard at a kennel operated by Blackcomb Dogsled, a Whistler-based sled dog tour company.

The dogs in the video, seen here, are showing stereotypic behaviour, which is a purposeless repetitive action indicating psychological suffering. The dogs can be seen pacing back and forth in cages and repeatedly running in circles around the posts they are chained to.

“No dog should have to live like this,” said VHS projects and communications director Peter Fricker. “The dogs in the video are being denied the freedom to engage in normal behaviours, including socializing with other dogs or with human companions.”

VHS is launching a campaign calling on the B.C. government to update the provincial Sled Dog Standards of Care Regulation to conform to the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association’s Code of Practice for Canadian Kennel Operations, which 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.” 

The Kennel Code also requires that: “Dogs are housed in such a way as to allow them to display natural behaviours, to socialize with or without other species of animals and humans, as appropriate, and to protect public safety.”

Fricker said the conditions shown in the video are not uncommon in sled dog operations across Canada and are not illegal. “These conditions are deplorable, yet there is nothing in the law to protect sled dogs from being treated this way.” He said VHS is urging the public to boycott sled dog tours.

B.C.’s Sled Dog Standards of Care Regulation, introduced after the infamous 2010 killing of 56 sled dogs in Whistler, still allows dogs to be tethered for up to 23 hours a day. The standards also allow sled dog 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.


Contact Peter Fricker: 604 603 5401

Opinion Editorial

Warm yourself up with these ethical alternatives to down

Article originally published on Daily Hive.

As the Canadian winter drags on and the country is gripped in a polar vortex, many of us will be looking for clothes and bedding to stay warm, whether it’s tucked up in bed or snow-shoeing up a mountain.

But how many shoppers will be aware that their choice of purchase may add to the misery of ducks and geese who are forced to supply a key component of the products we commonly use to keep us warm?

Down, that soft layer of feathers closest to a duck’s or goose’s skin is highly-prized in the textile industry as a thermo-insulator. Hence, its use in outdoor clothing, duvets, quilts and pillows. But the comfort down provides for humans stands in stark contrast to the treatment of ducks and geese who supply it.

Down is collected in three ways: Live-plucking; post-slaughter plucking and “gathering.”

Of these, live-plucking is considered the most unethical and inhumane practice, as it involves the painful stripping of feathers, often ripping the skin.

The amount of live-plucking in the down industry is disputed. The industry contends that it is rare and that most down is obtained from ducks and geese that have been slaughtered for food.

However, a 2009 Swedish investigative documentary estimated that between 50 and 80 % of down is sourced through live-plucking – a figure later confirmed by retail giant IKEA.

China, which has no national animal welfare laws, produces about 80% of the world’s down. Live-plucking is condemned by the China Feather and Down Industrial Association and the European Down and Feather Association but cases of live-plucking have been reported in China, Hungary and Poland.

In 2016, several farms practicing live-plucking in China were exposed by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). 

Down obtained post-slaughter has its own ethical issues. Ducks and geese raised for food are factory farmed around the world, with inhumane conditions being exposed in a number of countries from Taiwan to Australia to the United Kingdom.

In Canada, PETA exposed the mistreatment of geese at a Manitoba farm in 2017. 

Down collected through “gathering” or “harvesting” is the removal of loose feathers from a live duck or goose during moulting, when the birds naturally lose their feathers. 

However, research has shown they can still suffer as a result of poor handling and because not all birds will be moulting at the same time. 

Animal welfare controversies over down have led to the emergence of the Responsible Down Standard but certified farms have been exposed for animal abuse. Some companies, such as Patagonia, use the Global Traceable Down Standard. Four Paws, an international animal welfare group, has developed a ranking system to identify companies with the highest standards. Despite these initiatives, doubts linger about the transparency of the industry.

The best way to avoid the animal welfare pitfalls of down is to buy products using alternative materials for thermo-insulation. There are several, including PlumtechPolartecPrimaLoft, and more

In Canada, non-down bedding can be purchased at Bed, Bath and Beyond or by shopping online at companies such as Wayfair.

Fashion retailers such as NoizeArc’teryxLolëSave the Duck and Frank & Oak carry down alternative outerwear and The North Face uses an alternative to down called Thermoball in some of its products. 

For sleeping bags, MEC and Atmosphere both carry high-quality, synthetic brands.

One concern about down alternatives is that many are petroleum-based, bringing into question their sustainability. The industry is seeking to address the issue, with some companies, such as Everlane, using recycled materials in their products.

One company, Pangaia, has developed a fully biodegradable material that can be used in coats, comforters and other products – made from wildflowers. 


Speak up for animals on fur farms


2,893 individuals used the quick action tool to send an email directly to decision-makers. On November 5, 2021, the B.C. government announced that the Province would begin the process to phase out mink fur farms, with a a permanent ban on live mink on farms by April 2023. VHS will continue to monitor the situation, including opportunities to advocate for a ban that applies to all fur farming.

Recent media reports of the spread of COVID-19 on B.C. mink farms has exposed the cruelty and danger inherent in the province’s fur farming industry.  Please send a message to your MLA to urge a ban on this unnecessary and inhumane industry.

Industrialized fur farms in B.C. confine thousands of mink in cramped conditions that deprive them of the opportunity to engage in natural behaviours.  Mink are semi-aquatic animals yet they are held in tiny wire cages without access to water for foraging. A cage for a single female mink measures only 8 inches (width) by 15 inches (height).

Mink spend their entire lives caged until they are killed in gas chambers filled with carbon monoxide. All this is for the sake of making products for the fashion and cosmetics industry.

Video footage of Canadian fur farms obtained by The Fur-Bearers has shown animals exhibiting self-mutilation, cannibalism and repetitive behaviours caused by the stress of confinement.

In addition to the fur industry’s cruelty, there is a threat to public health, as outbreaks of COVID-19 emerge on mink farms around the world.  Here in B.C., the virus has been found on two mink farms, with infections occurring in both animals and farm workers. Scientists fear that such outbreaks could lead to dangerous mutations of the virus. Escaped mink from farms are a potential threat to wild populations, increasing the chance of further virus mutation and spread.

Now is the time for the provincial and federal governments to end the cruel and dangerous fur farming industry. This is also an opportunity for government to support farmers in transitioning to humane, healthy and sustainable alternatives, such as plant-based agriculture.

Please take the two actions below to support a fur farming ban at both the provincial and federal levels.

Please tell the Minister of Agriculture; the Minister of Health; and the President of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to fully enforce the Transport of Animals regulations, including issuing appropriately sized fines.

This action has now ended

2,893 people used this tool to send an email to decision-makers. Thank you for taking action!

Sign the House of Commons e-petition calling on the federal government to introduce a Canada-wide ban on fur farming.

The federal e-petition is now closed. Stay tuned for updates!


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.

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.”


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.

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.”