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Opinion Editorial

The Calgary Stampede should drop inhumane rodeo events

Article originally published on Daily Hive.

There are few good things to come out of COVID-19 but the cancellation of the Calgary Stampede’s chuckwagon races is one of them.

For the second year in a row, the event has been called off because of the pandemic, sparing horses from the annual death trap that has killed more than 70 horses since 1986. Six horses died in the race in 2019, the last time it was run.

However, the Stampede’s rodeo is going ahead, leaving calves, steers, bulls and horses subject to the abusive treatment its supporters call a “sport.”

One of the most controversial events is calf roping. The rodeo industry changed the name to “tie-down roping” – a public relations move designed to make the event seem more ethically palatable. And no wonder. Chasing three-month-old animals across an arena, roping them by the neck to a sudden halt and throwing them to the ground before tying them up can’t be easy to market as family entertainment.

Yet, even though polling shows 59 per cent of Canadians are opposed to rodeos, the industry has maintained a big enough fan base to keep going. It does so by perpetuating myths about rodeo heritage and tradition, selling events like calf roping as examples of genuine ranch practice.  In fact, rodeo calf roping is a perversion of what happens on ranches. Real calf roping is done as gently as possible, as the whole point is to avoid injury and stress to the animal. The rodeo version is done under time pressure, with big prize money for the competitor who ropes and ties the calf in the fastest time.

Anyone looking at close-up photos of rodeo calves being roped can see that they are terrified and stressed, with tongues protruding and eyes bulging. While it seems obvious that chasing, roping and tying animals up would cause them stress, rodeo promoters have relied on a lack of scientific proof to maintain the pretense that the calves don’t suffer. That may be about to change.

Two studies out of Australia (where rodeo is popular) provide evidence to support the common-sense argument that calf roping is inhumane. One study found increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol in calves after they had been roped, concluding that “the roping event in rodeos is stressful.” The second study had veterinarians and cattle-handling experts examine images of calves before and after being roped during a rodeo event. The results were clear: “These findings indicate that calves in roping events experience several negative emotions, which raise serious concerns as to the continuation of these events on welfare grounds.”

Sadly, such research is lacking on other events such as steer wrestling and bull riding, yet any objective observer would find the suffering they cause self-evident. Steer wrestlers literally twist the animal’s neck until he is forced to the ground. Steers have had their necks broken in the event. It’s preposterous to suggest such treatment doesn’t cause pain and suffering.

In bull riding, the bull has an unwanted rider on his back, spurs raking his sides and a “flank strap” tied around his hindquarters – all causing the bull to buck wildly. He wouldn’t do so otherwise. Does anyone seriously believe the bull doesn’t find this stressful?

Do we really need scientific studies to prove these events are cruel? If someone tried to introduce dog roping as a sport would we wait for the science to prove that it would be inhumane? No, any decent human being would oppose such obvious cruelty without hesitation. Are rodeo animals not as deserving of our objective reason and compassion?

The Calgary Stampede needs to recognise that using animals for entertainment is becoming socially unacceptable. Ringling Bros. Circus (“The Greatest Show on Earth”) closed down in 2017; the display of captive whales and dolphins has been banned; a majority of Canadians already oppose rodeos. Will the Stampede (“The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth”) face reality, end its dependence on exploiting animals, and start providing entertainment that all Canadians can enjoy and be proud of? If not, it will likely suffer the same fate as Ringling Bros. – a once celebrated cultural icon reduced to a shameful relic of the past.

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Opinion Editorial

Farming and grocery industries’ broken promises betray majority of Canadians

Article originally published in The Georgia Straight.

For decades, animal-welfare groups have been campaigning for better conditions for animals on Canada’s farms. Progress has been slow, but two major achievements seemed to be within reach: an end to battery cages for laying hens and a phase-out of gestation crates for pigs. Until now. 

Hopes for better lives for pigs and hens are now in doubt following news that the Retail Council of Canada (RCC) is reneging on commitments to sourcing only cage-free eggs and to shift away from selling pork from farms using gestation crates. The RCC represents Canada’s major grocery chains. 

Last week, the RCC announced that it “will pursue and make commitments solely through NFACC, thus removing previous commitments on sow housing and cage-free eggs…”. NFACC is the National Farm Animal Care Council, an industry-dominated body that oversees codes of practice for the care and handling of farm animals. 

In 2013, the RCC announced it would move toward sourcing pork from pigs raised in “alternative housing practices” by 2022. In 2016, the council committed to sourcing only eggs from cage-free hens by 2025.  

The RCC’s abandonment of these commitments follows last year’s decision by Canada’s pig farmers to renege on their 2014 commitment to end the continuous use of gestation stalls by 2024. 

These moves by farmers and the grocery industry fly in the face of public opinion. Polling has shown that 85 percent of Canadians support a complete phase-out of gestation stalls, and almost two-thirds want an end to battery cages for hens. 

Gestation crates confine pregnant sows so tightly that they are unable to engage in natural behaviours or even turn around. Scientists and animal welfare experts have long argued that the crates compromise pigs’ welfare. Temple Grandin, the renowned professor of animal science, has stated: “Gestation crates for pigs are a real problem… Basically, you’re asking a sow to live in an airline seat…” 

Battery cages for laying hens allow approximately 22 x 22 cm (9 x 9 inches) of space per hen, preventing them from engaging in natural behaviours or even flapping a wing.  The European Union banned battery cages in 2012. 

There is no doubt that gestation crates and battery cages are inhumane and that consumers want them gone. So why are the farming and grocery industries backsliding on their promises to move toward systems with better animal welfare?  Are they hoping the commitments they made amidst high-profile campaigns by animal-welfare groups can be quietly dropped now that those campaigns have abated? 

If so, they are misreading the public mood, which has been increasingly supportive of better welfare for farm animals. A 2017 poll found that a majority of Canadians would pay grocers more if animal welfare were improved. 

Breaking promises to support better welfare could backfire on farmers and the RCC, as animal-welfare organizations and the public lose faith in a system that is essentially self-regulating and dependent on the industry-dominated NFACC. The public perception that animal agriculture is averse to transparency and accountability has already been heightened by the introduction of “Ag-gag” legislation in Ontario and Alberta. Calls for independent regulation, inspection, and enforcement are likely to grow as trust in industrialized animal agriculture and the grocers that sell its products declines. 

Canadians know animals suffer on factory farms and they want it to stop. (Is it any wonder that the plant-based food industry is booming?) If farmers and retailers break their promises on gestation crates and battery cages, hundreds of thousands of pigs and millions of laying hens will suffer. The RCC needs to stand by its previous commitments on farm-animal welfare, not only to show it cares about what consumers want but because it’s the ethical thing to do.

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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. 

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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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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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Opinion Editorial

Canada needs to take the threat of disease from wildlife seriously

Article originally published in The Province.

Despite calls from experts to take action against the global wildlife trade, which scientists believe is a likely source of COVID-19, the response from national governments has been muted and mixed, with virtual silence from Canada. That’s a shame, as there is plenty Canada could do to improve our own safeguards against diseases from imported wildlife.

Whatever the precise source of COVID-19 might be, the science has been clear for years that zoonotic disease (disease transmitted from animals to humans) from wildlife is a serious threat, accounting for at least 70 per cent of all emerging diseases. And that threat is not just from the much-discussed wet markets in Asia. It’s from a legal global trade worth US$300 billion and an illegal trade worth US$23 billion, both of which involve and affect Canada. Yet there are questions about the coherence and effectiveness of Canada’s defences against disease from imported wildlife.

Currently, responsibility for keeping Canadians safe from foreign zoonotic diseases is spread across several government agencies, including the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), which are in turn networked with a myriad of other bodies, such as the Canadian Animal Health Surveillance System and the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative.

A 2016 study criticized this system, stating: “Canada lacks a coherent and effective regulatory framework to address emerging zoonotic diseases,” arguing that “there are gaps in disease surveillance, wildlife health concerns are not given due priority, risk assessment processes do not explicitly consider the impact of human action on wildlife health, and there is insufficient collaboration between government sectors.”

There also appear to be loopholes in the CFIA’s system for controlling which animals are allowed into the country. For example, the agency does not inspect reptiles (except turtles and tortoises) imported into Canada. As its website states, “there is no Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) requirement to obtain an import permit, nor a health certificate. Under normal circumstances, there are no border inspections. Imports are permitted from any country, for any use, to any destination in Canada.”

Yet, reptiles are known to carry zoonotic diseases. Snakes were an early suspect in the research into the source of COVID-19, although they’ve since been ruled out.

The CFIA also says rodents (with some exceptions) can be imported into Canada without an import permit, health certificate, or inspection. So, for example, someone could import capybaras, the world’s largest rodents, into Canada, despite the fact they are known to carry dangerous ticks and have been known to shed coronaviruses. They are also sold online as pets.

The CFIA’s surveillance system is reactive rather than preventative, relying on prior intelligence indicating that a specific animal is a disease carrier. The system’s weakness was demonstrated when Canada prohibited pet Gambian rats from entering the country four months after they caused an outbreak of Monkeypox in the United States in 2003. Before the outbreak became manifest, the CFIA would have allowed the rats into Canada. Use of the precautionary principle, in the form of a ban on exotic pet imports, would be a far better safeguard.

Another concern is the lack of resources Canada devotes to fighting the illegal wildlife trade, one of a number of tasks given to the federal Wildlife Enforcement Directorate. According to a 2017 article in Canadian Geographic, the directorate had only 75 field officers nationwide. The article quotes the head of the directorate on the continued rise in wildlife crime: “And when you couple that with downward trends in government spending, that means more work for us and fewer resources to do it.” A 2017 survey of the directorate’s employees found that 65 per cent felt the quality of their work suffered because of “having to do the same or more work, but with fewer resources.”

Clearly, Canada must take the threat of disease from the wildlife trade more seriously. It needs a coherent regulatory framework to address the threat from zoonotic diseases. It needs to ban the import of wild and exotic animals and it needs to devote more resources to stop wildlife smuggling.

In July 2003, the medical journal The Lancet described the wild animal trade as “a disaster ignored” and called for its end. The warning went unheeded and that disaster is now upon us. Let’s not make the same mistake again.

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Opinion Editorial

COVID-19 exposes another dark side of Canada’s meat industry

Article originally published on Daily Hive.

COVID-19 has created a crisis for the meat industry, with workers falling ill, slaughterhouses shutting down, and fears of meat shortages emerging. The virus has also exposed the industry’s deep flaws, including an ethical vacuum at its core.

Disturbing reports that meat companies failed to protect employees and allowed them to work while sick with the virus offer the most likely explanation for COVID-19 outbreaks in meat plants across North America.

In BC, Vancouver Coastal Health was critical of one Vancouver plant’s safety measures after 28 workers tested positive for the virus, finding that “the plans that were in place were inadequate or were not appropriately executed.” Outbreaks have since occurred in three more local poultry operations.

In Alberta, a slaughterhouse operated by meat giant Cargill is now the largest single-site outbreak of coronavirus in Canada, with more than 900 cases. The company is facing criticism that it failed to put in place appropriate physical distancing measures and provide personal protective equipment to its employees. Meat industry workers in several US states have protested against slaughterhouses staying open over safety fears. There have also been outbreaks in meat plants in Ontario and Quebec.

The meat and livestock industry’s apparent lack of concern for the welfare of its employees is no surprise to animal advocates who have long decried the appalling treatment of animals in intensive agriculture. Despite an endless parade of undercover investigations and media exposés revealing cruel practices and animal suffering, the industry has resisted change. Instead, it has lobbied for “Ag-gag” laws to keep its operations hidden from public view.

The industry’s exploitation of animals and workers has been ruthlessly efficient, providing cheap meat while squeezing every last penny of profit from its industrialized feeding, confining, transporting and slaughtering of billions of cows, pigs and chickens. That same concentration on profit and efficiency has also squeezed the humanity out of the industry. It is no wonder that renowned historian and author Yuval Noah Harari has described industrial animal agriculture as one of the worst crimes in history.

But it doesn’t end there. Beyond the cruelty of factory farming are the equally well-documented harms it inflicts on the environment and our health.

The United Nations Environment Agency has said “meat production is known to be a major contributor to climate change and environmental destruction…” and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) continues to call for a reduction in global meat consumption to protect the planet. A 2019 study by the World Resources Institute found that: “For every food calorie generated, animal-based foods — and ruminant meats in particular — require many times more feed and land inputs, and emit far more greenhouse gases, than plant-based foods.”  And, in the irony of ironies, factory farming risks causing future pandemics — just like the one currently shutting down its slaughterhouses — by confining thousands of stressed, genetically-uniform animals into crowded barns.

Despite endless debates in the media about meat consumption and health, major studies continue to show links between meat consumption and higher risks of heart diseasecancer, and diabetes.

With modern animal agriculture clearly unsustainable, it is no accident that the plant-based protein industry has grown in recent years.  Now, the coronavirus crisis may have provided it with an opportunity to demonstrate its advantages, with US sales of plant-based meat substitutes recently jumping 200%.

Those advantages are significant. There is strong evidence that a plant-based diet is healthy, beneficial to the environment, and, of course, good for animals. And, because it is more automated and less reliant on labour, the plant-based protein industry is less vulnerable to staff shortages caused by the pandemic.

The development of plant-based protein offers the world a chance to turn away from an industry that has demonstrated little concern for the welfare of animals, the planet or the people it employs. With the coronavirus exposing the vulnerability of this unsustainable sector, it calls into question our individual food choices. If we can eat well without cruelty, slaughter, environmental degradation and needless risks to our health, why wouldn’t we?

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Opinion Editorial

We can’t afford to ignore the deadly wildlife trade

Article originally published on Daily Hive.

While the world is understandably preoccupied with the disastrous consequences of COVID-19, the global wildlife trade – the likely cause of the pandemic – is getting less attention. Scientists have raised concerns about the issue for years, but they were ignored. It’s an inescapable fact: we were warned.

Back in 2004, the Vancouver Humane Society (VHS) published a report titled A Disaster Ignored? The report, a review of scientific studies concerning the risks of disease from the wildlife trade, concluded: “There is a strong consensus of scientific opinion that the international movement of animals through the global trade in wild and exotic species poses a significant threat of spreading infectious disease to humans and other animals, both domestic and wild.”

Sixteen years later that scientific consensus is even stronger. It is estimated that at least 70% of emerging infectious diseases originate in wildlife. Yet, as COVID-19 has tragically proven, the opportunities to prevent a disaster have indeed been ignored.

While the precise source of COVID-19 has yet to be established, scientists who study zoonotic diseases (diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans) believe it originated from wildlife sold at a wet market in Wuhan, where the pandemic began.

Unregulated wet markets, where wild and domestic animals are slaughtered and sold on the spot in unsanitary conditions, are common in Asia and much of the developing world. They are supplied by the global wildlife trade (both legal and illegal), which also involves the sale of exotic pets and animal parts for use in so-called traditional medicines or in-fashion items (skins, ivory).

Scientists, conservationists and animal welfare groups have long called for the wildlife trade to be banned or at least restricted and for stronger enforcement of legislation against the trade. Their reasons are clear: the trade spreads zoonotic disease, drives species toward extinction, and is extremely cruel.

VHS, which has long campaigned against the sale and keeping of exotic pets, recently launched a petition calling on the BC government to strengthen regulation of the trade and ownership of wild animals in the province. The petition urges the government to review its regulations to ensure species that could pose a risk of spreading zoonotic disease be prohibited. VHS has also joined with more than 200 conservation and animal welfare organizations in signing an open letter to the World Health Organization, urging action against the wildlife trade.

Action to curtail the wildlife trade is needed at every level – globally, locally, and nationally. There have been calls for Canada to do more on the issue, including a suggestion by former federal minister James Moore that “Canada should table a resolution at the UN General Assembly calling for the immediate closure of the deadly and irresponsible wild animal and wet markets in China; enforced by international inspections and economic sanctions for non-compliance.”

The federal government can take this critical opportunity to work with the international community to curtail the wildlife trade, devote more enforcement resources to stopping the illegal import of wildlife into Canada, and develop a coordinated plan among relevant federal agencies and the provinces to eliminate or restrict the sale and ownership of exotic and wild animals. The Vancouver Humane Society is working alongside World Animal Protection Canada and other groups to press the government to do just that.

The scientific evidence is clear: unless we end the wildlife trade, we will see species disappear, millions of animals will suffer, and there will be more pandemics in the future. These are all disasters we cannot afford to ignore.

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Opinion Editorial

GM Canada should stop sponsoring the Calgary Stampede chuckwagon race

Article originally published on Daily Hive.

The death of six horses in last year’s Calgary Stampede chuckwagon race may have marked a turning point in public support for the event, with even die-hard chuckwagon fans calling for change.

The key question, however, is whether corporate sponsors of the race will continue to support an event that attracts negative headlines and public outrage virtually every year.

More than 70 horses have died in the event since 1986 and none of the much-publicized safety initiatives, rule changes, and reforms announced by the Stampede has made any difference.

The horses keep on dying.

Yet, on March 19, Calgary will again host the annual GMC Rangeland Derby canvas auction, in which companies will bid to advertise on the tarps covering the chuckwagons that will compete in July’s races at the Stampede.

The bidding companies tend to be local, with many involved in construction or the oil and gas industry. With relatively strong local support for chuckwagon racing, the companies are unlikely to face consumer pressure to distance themselves from the event, despite the annual horse carnage.

But General Motors Canada, which is the title sponsor for the chuckwagon race, is a national and international brand. While associating that brand with the macho “half-mile of hell” might have made sense 30 year ago, does it still?

There have been clear signs that society is growing uncomfortable with the use of animals in entertainment: Ringling Bros. Circus has gone out of business, SeaWorld no longer features orca whale shows, and Canada has banned whale and dolphin captivity. And, according to a 2019 poll by Research Co., a majority of Canadians (59%) are opposed to rodeos.

Meanwhile, General Motors seems to be adopting a more progressive brand. In 2017, the company announced that “General Motors believes the future is all-electric,” ending its century-long relationship with gasoline and diesel. In addition, GM has launched a major “diversity and inclusion” initiative to increase the number of women and minorities it employs. If that’s a brand that’s looking to the future and aiming to broaden its appeal, where do chuckwagon races and dead horses fit?

Yet GM Canada continues to sponsor not only the Calgary Stampede chuckwagon race, but also a number of other races organized by the World Professional Chuckwagon Association (WPCA). Although media attention has focused on horse deaths at the Stampede, horses have also been killed at WPCA races in several prairie towns, including one in Medicine Hat in 2017, two in Bonnyville in 2012, and four in Grand Prairie in 2009.

Perhaps GM Canada believes the rugged machismo of chuckwagon racing will still resonate with some of its customers, making it worth associating with the event. But, brand values aside, there remains an ethical question: How can the company support an event that every year puts animals at undue risk of injury and death just to amuse a crowd?

While the Calgary Stampede and its supporters have ignored the arguments made by animal advocates against the chuckwagon race for decades, it is harder to ignore independent academic research that examines animal welfare in the race.

A 2017 study of the Stampede’s chuckwagon race by Professor Kevin Young at the University of Calgary concluded that “there are obvious and acknowledged examples of harm/abuse toward the animals involved.”

Professor Young also addressed the Stampede’s program of safety and rule changes, describing it as being “as much about marketing and public image as it is about animal safety, especially in the face of ongoing harm to horses.”

The study simply confirms what facts and common sense tells us: The chuckwagon race kills and injures horses for the sake of entertainment and the Stampede has failed to stop it.

There are good branding and marketing reasons for GM Canada to reconsider its sponsorship of chuckwagon racing, but the ethical case is even stronger.

They should do the right thing and stop supporting this gruesome spectacle.