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animal welfare compassion Dairy Food and Drink News/Blog plant-based diet Promoted vegan vegetarianism

A chance to speak up for farm animals

 

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The federal, provincial and territorial governments are asking for comments on plans for the future of agriculture in Canada, providing an opportunity to raise issues about the treatment of farm animals.

Phase 2 of the consultation is open until November 30 and includes options to fill in an online questionnaire, email your comments or write a letter. Please take the time to contribute your views about animal welfare and the future of animal agriculture.

The consultation refers to the government’s plan, called The Calgary Statement – the Next Policy Framework, which sets out several Priority Areas:

Markets and trade
Science, research and innovation
Risk management
Environmental sustainability and climate change
Value-added agriculture and agri-food processing
Public Trust

Following are some key points from our submission to the consultation (full submission here):

Markets and Trade

Canada should develop markets for plant-based protein instead of animal-based protein, which contributes to environmental degradation, is resource-intensive and is dependent on inhumane confinement systems.

Science, research and innovation

Canada should invest in research and development of plant-based protein, especially the production and processing of pulse crops.  In contrast to animal protein production, pulses have been shown to be environmentally beneficial (requiring relatively little water and fertilizer), healthy and sustainable.  A number of innovative plant-based industries have emerged in recent years, attracting investment and consumer interest.

Risk management

The livestock sector has a number of inherent risks, including:

– negative environmental impacts (e.g. greenhouse gas emissions)
– zoonotic disease outbreaks (e.g. avian flu, listeria, e. coli)
– consumer rejection of inhumane, intensive confinement systems (e.g. battery cages for laying hens) and other animal welfare concerns
– consumer health concerns over meat consumption (e.g. cancer risk of red and processed meats)
– rise of antbiotic resistance due to overuse of antibiotics in livestock

Environmental sustainability and climate change

Globally, the meat and livestock sector contributes 14.5% of all greenhouse gases, which is more than the transportation sector.  It is also resource-intensive – it is the world’s largest user of agricultural land, through grazing and the use of feed crops. The sector is also a major contributor to water pollution and loss of biodiversity.

Public Trust

Canadian consumers have many concerns about animal agriculture.

Currently, animal agriculture in Canada involves the confinement and suffering of millions of animals.  Animal welfare should be a top priority in the development of agricultural policy. Currently, there are no mandatory animal welfare standards in Canada, only voluntary Codes of Practice.  These should be replaced with mandatory standards enforced by independent, third-party inspections.

The meat and livestock sector is dependent on intensive confinement systems (factory farms) that compromise animal welfare and degrade the environment. In addition, the overconsumption of meat has been shown to be harmful to human health.  Consequently, this sector is unsustainable.  Consumers will lose faith in agriculture if these problems persist.

Resources should be shifted to the development of a plant-based protein sector, including more support for Canada’s production, processing and marketing of pulses (peas, beans, lentils). Plant-based diets should be promoted through public information programs and support for initiatives like Meatless Monday.

Such initiatives would earn public trust, as they benefit the environment, public health and animal welfare.

Your participation in this consultation will ensure that animals are not forgotten in the development of Canada’s agricultural policies.

More info:

CBC News story

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Twitter: #agnpf

 

 

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animal welfare cruelty News/Blog Promoted

Is the end in sight for battery cages?

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Change is coming but more than 90 per cent of eggs in Canada still come from hens in battery cages.

 

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It looks like egg farmers are finally getting the message that consumers don’t want eggs from hens kept in crowded, cruel battery cages.

Their apparent conversion to the concept of cage-free egg production emerged in recent local media reports.  One farmer told the Abbotsford News: “I realized that’s the way of the future so I needed to personally change to meet the needs of our customers.”

His views were echoed by Brad Bond, chairman of the BC Egg Marketing Board, who told the Vancouver Sun: “This trend is going to continue and we are well-positioned to meet the demand… We know that animal welfare is top of mind for the hospitality industry and consumers alike.”

This welcome change comes after years of pressure by animal welfare groups that has educated consumers and retailers about the inherent cruelty of battery cages.  The recent decision by MacDonald’s Restaurants to phase out the use of eggs from caged hens may be the nail in the coffin for battery systems.  This follows similar decisions by big food companies such as Starbucks, General Mills, Sodexo, Aramark and Compass Group.

Here in British Columbia, VHS has led the fight against battery cages with our ChickenOUT! campaign – and we know it’s had an impact. It’s no accident that in B.C. nearly 17 per cent of eggs come from cage-free systems, compared to about three per cent in the rest of Canada.

But with more than 90 per cent of Canada’s eggs still coming from caged hens, there is a long way to go. And there are many problems to overcome.  Some farmers may switch to “enriched cages,” which provide a bit more space but still deny vital natural behaviours. Others may only go as far as switching to free-run or free-range, without moving to certified organic production, which has the highest welfare standards and is inspected by independent, third-party auditors to ensure operations are truly free-range.

VHS executive director Debra Probert expressed such concerns to the Vancouver Sun: “It’s a progressive move and those birds will be out of cages, but the public should know this is not the highest welfare system for laying hens…It remains to be seen how this free-run industry will function.” Nevertheless, the direction away from cages is clear.

While VHS welcomes the reduction in animal suffering that comes with the elimination of battery cages, we are well aware that the egg industry will still have inherent welfare problems, such as the killing of unwanted male chicks and inhumane transportation and slaughter, which all chickens endure.

That’s why VHS urges consumers to try making the switch to a plant-based diet.  Reducing or eliminating eggs from your diet are the best ways to help end the suffering of laying hens.  The good news is that new alternatives to eggs and egg products are emerging.

While victory over battery cage operations cannot yet be declared, their end is in sight.  Perhaps more importantly, the campaigns against them have shown that educating consumers and pressuring producers and retailers does work.  This bodes well for the fight against other cruel factory farm practices.  VHS is committed to being a part of that fight.  We hope you will join us.

 

 

 

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animal welfare Dairy News/Blog Promoted

Still no charges in dairy cruelty case

It has now been one year since the BC SPCA recommended criminal animal cruelty charges against eight employees at Chilliwack Cattle Sales, Canada’s largest dairy producer, and many months since provincial animal cruelty charges were recommended against the company itself. Yet, Crown prosecutors have still yet to come to a decision about laying charges.

For its part, the BC SPCA responded quickly, conducting a raid on the facility and recommending animal cruelty charges within days of receiving video and written evidence covertly obtained by an employee over the course of four weeks last spring.

The delay is unusual and concerning. Prosecutors have been presented with incontrovertible evidence of animals being routinely whipped, kicked, and punched in their faces, bodies, and testicles. Still more animals were documented on video suffering from untreated gruesome injuries and infections.

Internationally respected bovine expert and veterinarian Dr. James Reynolds commented that the video depicted “the most severe cases of animal abuse I have ever seen in 32 years.”

Worse, the company itself appears to have been complicit in the abuse and neglect, despite attempting to distance itself from the employees during the public outcry that followed the footage’s release. The whistleblower stated that he repeatedly brought his concerns to management, which failed to act; several more fired employees came forward to say that they were unfairly taking the fall for a company that created and condoned the apparent widespread culture of cruelty.

Yet, Chilliwack Cattle Sales continues to operate with impunity, milking a staggering 3500 cows three times each day.

It did not take long for the BC Milk Marketing Board to act. By last September, the regulator had made the standards in the national dairy code of practice mandatory, effective virtually immediately. Such actions by provincial regulators are all the more important in Canada’s supply-managed dairy industry, where milk is pooled and dairy processors cannot set animal welfare standards for their suppliers—a tactic commonly used in other countries.

This case presented a unique opportunity for prosecutors to take farmed animal cruelty as seriously as it ought to be. We killed 740 million animals for food in 2014, making farmed animals by far the largest population of animals under human care (by contrast, there are about 15 million pets in Canada). However, these pigs, chickens, turkeys, and cows are kept largely in windowless sheds on private property, entirely shielded from the scrutiny of law enforcement, which is unable to inspect farms without first receiving a complaint from the public.

Unsurprisingly, on the rare occasion that complaints about farmed animal cruelty are received, they come from neighbours concerned about neglect on small operations, where animals may be visible. Employees at factory farms are unlikely to report abuse when their livelihood is at stake, or when they may be reporting on their friends—or themselves.

In the case of Chilliwack Cattle Sales, however, not only was an employee able to obtain evidence of illegal animal cruelty, he was able to actually document malicious abuses while they were being committed, rather than simply after-the-fact conditions of neglect.

Although animal cruelty laws in this country are regularly criticized for being weak, the reality is that provincial and federal law are clear that animal abuse and neglect are illegal. National codes of practice, created with government funding, set standards of care that arguably form a part of the law.

However, these laws are meaningless without adequate enforcement. Barriers to enforcement admittedly do exist—farmed animals are out of sight, law enforcement only acts in response to public complaints, and cruelty laws are mostly enforced by private bodies that are underfunded (the BC SPCA, for example, receives no government funding and must fundraise for all of its operating expenses, from sheltering animals to investigating cruelty).

But when a robust file of evidence virtually falls into prosecutors’ laps along with charge recommendations from law enforcement, farmed animals at last have an opportunity for swift justice.

Let’s hope the concerning one-year delay ultimately results in meaningful prosecutorial action against Chilliwack Cattle Sales. Anything less sends the message that illegal animal cruelty is a permitted ingredient in Canada’s food supply.

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animal welfare Food and Drink News/Blog

A&W’s move to antibiotic-free chicken doesn’t address animal welfare issues

You’ve probably seen the commercials.  A nice man from A&W Restaurants takes to the streets to offer consumers the company’s new antibiotic-free chicken.  People seem to approve and who wouldn’t?  The overuse of antibiotics in farm animals is a huge problem that threatens the effectiveness of the antibiotics we depend on for human health.

But A&W’s move to address the issue by sourcing only chickens that have not been treated with antibiotics, while laudable, does nothing to address another serious issue of concern to consumers – animal welfare.

Chickens raised for meat are the most abused animals on the planet. They live in huge indoor sheds in groups of 5,000 to 50,000, eating and sleeping in their own waste for their entire lives. Because they are bred for fast growth they develop painfully weakened bones from rapid weight gain and suffer from many other painful conditions.

In 1950 it took 84 days for a broiler to reach market weight. Today it takes 38 to 40 days. The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture estimates that if you grew as fast as a chicken, you’d weigh 349 pounds at age two. These chickens look full-grown, but peep like the babies they are.

VHS encourages consumers to seek out plant-based alternatives to factory-farmed meat because of the profound suffering that it causes. Products from companies like B.C.-based Gardein provide convenient, healthy and great-tasting meat alternatives.

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advertising fundraising News/Blog vegetarianism

Food, Friend, Why?

Photo of "Food, Friend, Why?" bus back advertisement
Our ad “Food, Friend, Why?” raises an important and provocative moral question: why do we eat one animal and befriend another? Most of us wouldn’t dream of eating a cat or a dog, but when one considers the intelligence and sentience of farmed animals, it doesn’t make sense to consider cows or pigs or chickens as somehow so different.

We certainly don’t expect everyone to become vegetarian. However, it’s simply a fact that reducing or eliminating meat is the most effective way to stop animal suffering. Check out Raising the Barn or Eat Less Meat to see how animals are raised for food and why meat production is not sustainable.

We would like to run this ad again, but we can only do it with your help. The ad company has been very generous – they usually extend the ads an extra week or two without charging us. This means your donation towards this project can accomplish even more!

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link to donate now at canadahelps.org

You are amazing! We are only $778 away from our goal of $7,000. I know there are some of you out there who think the ad is important, but haven’t had time to donate yet. Can you help? It’s easy – just click the ‘donate now’ button. Even a small amount helps – if 105 people gave $10, we’d reach our goal! Thank you for all you do for animals.

Have you ever seen a hen chasing a ball? Check out this video captured by Director of Farm Animal Programs Leanne McConnachie on a recent visit to Rabbit River Farms (a producer of certified organic, free-range eggs).

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Why we say “eat less meat”

Visitors to the VHS website will note that we have a project called ‘Eat less meat,’ which provides information on the consequences of meat production and consumption.  It explains the animal suffering caused by factory farming and also refers to the negative impacts on the environment and human health. And, obviously, it encourages people to respond to these issues by eating less meat.

For some, especially ethical vegans and vegetarians, eating “less” meat may seem a tepid response to a system responsible for the slaughter and abuse of billions of animals.

It’s absolutely true that veganism, abstaining from all animal products, is the best response to factory farming and other forms of  animal cruelty.  If all human beings were vegan an immense amount of animal suffering would simply disappear.  It’s something worth aiming for, as both a personal goal and as an ideal for human society.

VHS’s position is that any movement toward that goal should be encouraged and that no one who falls short should be demonized.  So a heavy meat-eater who reduces meat consumption or a flexitarian who becomes a vegetarian or a vegetarian who becomes a vegan should all be applauded.  They are all on the same path and they are all making a difference.

Animal advocates, academics and philosophers are currently engaged in complex debates about human responsibilities toward animals and the moral issues surrounding meat consumption. Sadly, these debates can be bitter and divisive, leaving the animal rights movement fractured and fractious.

To outside observers it can sometimes appear that the debate is about competing for moral purity rather than addressing animal suffering.  Negative stereotypes of vegans and vegetarians, often fostered by the media, portray them as intolerant, humourless zealots.  Such misconceptions, though unfair and untrue, do have to be taken into account when encouraging people to address farm animal suffering by moving toward a plant-based diet.  Perceptions matter.

There is some evidence that omnivores resent ethical vegetarians because they perceive (inaccurately) that they are being harshly judged.  It is possible that the very people the animal rights movement wants to engage on this issue are being turned off by this perceived “holier-than-thou” attitude.  They feel demonized as morally inferior before anyone can even begin a discussion with them about the benefits of reducing or eliminating meat consumption.

That’s why VHS advocates eating less meat.  Anyone can do that.  And, once you start, it’s not hard to reduce meat consumption one step at a time.  There has never been a time when cutting out meat was so easy.  There are more meatless options in supermarkets and restaurants than ever.  There are more vegetarian and vegan cookbooks available and a wealth of online information on plant-based diets.

There are also plenty of studies showing why reducing meat consumption is good for human health, the environment and, of course, animals.  More people are becoming aware of these facts.  By becoming one of them and taking whatever steps you can to address the issue, you can make a difference.

 

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Not just a chicken

Earlier this year, a rather obscure gathering of scientists took place at the University of Prince Edward Island.  The “Poultry Welfare Conference September 2012” was never going to make big headlines but in its own small way it just might help alleviate the suffering of billions of animals.

As animal advocates will tell you, it’s hard to get the public to care about chickens.  To most people they are good for dinner and not much else.   Cats and dogs, zoo animals and wildlife all attract a degree of human empathy or sympathy, but farm animals, especially poultry just don’t rate. 

Perhaps it’s because people don’t think (or prefer not to think) of their drumsticks or nuggets as having once been a living, breathing animal.  And even if they do, well, it’s just a chicken.

But of course chickens are more than just food.  In fact, as scientists are discovering, they are not only smarter than anyone thought – they’re also capable of feelings such as frustration, distress and even empathy.

Dr. Ian Duncan, Canada’s foremost poultry welfare scientist, told the P.E.I. conference that there is now an acceptance that it is feelings that govern animal welfare and “therefore feelings that should be measured when assessing welfare.”  Duncan has designed experiments that “ask” animals how they feel by measuring how hard they are willing to work to obtain or avoid certain stimuli.

For example, he has shown that hens will work just as hard to find a secluded nesting place as they will to get food, suggesting that the frustration of being denied a nest is as powerful a feeling as hunger.  In Canada, 95 per cent of laying hens are kept in cages that deny them the opportunity to nest.  Science now supports the common sense contention that those caged hens, about 26 million of them, are suffering.

Duncan’s work is underpinned by a broader scientific rethink on animal intelligence and sentience.  In July of this year, a prominent group of neuroscientists gathered at the University of Cambridge to reassess consciousness in human and non-human animals.  The result was the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness, which, among other things, declared that “Mammalian and avian emotional networks and cognitive microcircuitries appear to be far more homologous than previously thought.”  In other words, birds think and feel more like us than we had supposed.

The declaration has moral and cultural implications, as Dr. Christof Koch, a renowned neuroscientist and signatory to the declaration made clear: “The belief in human exceptionalism, so strongly rooted in the Judeo-Christian view of the world, flies in the face of all evidence for the structural and behavioural continuity between animals and people.”

Some specific studies on chickens have suggested that they possess “primitive self-consciousness.”  Others have found evidence that chickens have “one of the essential underpinning attributes of ‘empathy’; the ability to be affected by, and share, the emotional state of another.”

Even the social behaviours of chickens (in natural settings) indicate they are perhaps not so different from “higher animals” as previously thought. One Australian study found that roosters who lost out to dominant males when it came to attracting hens found alternative routes to romantic success by “being nice” and finding food for hens.  (Human males who never made the football team but still wanted to get dates will be familiar with such strategies.)

But should chickens’ welfare depend on how intelligent or more “like us” they are?  Philosophical debates rage over granting animals moral consideration based on their levels of sentience, intelligence and self-consciousness.  Some would argue that the capacity of an animal to feel pain should be enough to make inflicting such pain morally wrong.

It could also be argued that having intelligence hasn’t saved millions of pigs suffering in factory farms, or whales who continue to be slaughtered, or dogs and primates still used in laboratory research.

Nevertheless, making science-based arguments when advocating compassion for animals does carry weight with those suspicious of mere sentimentalism (although one wonders why the simple concept of mercy isn’t morally persuasive enough).  Proving animals are more intelligent and emotionally capable will, in the long run, make it harder for industries and authorities to justify making them suffer or killing them for human benefit.

Even changing chickens’ image will help.  Science is showing that they are not “bird-brained” “dumb clucks” but sentient, clever birds with unique personalities and interesting social behaviours.  That’s who is suffering on factory farms.  That’s who is being slaughtered by the millions.  That’s who is on your plate – not “just a chicken.”

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Canada’s factory farms exposed

VHS’s contribution to the report concerns Canada’s supply management system and cruelty to caged hens like these ones on an Ontario battery farm.

Report is a must read

The World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) has released some alarming findings about the impacts of Canada’s animal agriculture practices.

What’s On Your Plate? The Hidden Costs of Industrial Animal Agriculture exposes the destructive impacts of intensive livestock operations on our health, the environment, animal welfare and rural Canada.

The report also exposes the real costs of our food, including tax-funded subsidies to agriculture, and the costs borne by our health care system for public safety and food borne illnesses. Our “cheap” food isn’t so cheap after all!

VHS co-wrote a section on supply management and Canada’s egg industry (pages 101-105). Read the report here and take action to help address the issue.

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Hens to end miserable lives as glue

The sticky problem of making money from old hens finally has a solution. They’re going to be turned into glue.

According to a story in the Western Producer, researchers at the University of Alberta say spent hens, which are seen as waste in the industry, can be used to produce wood glue. There’s a “big market” say the researchers.

In Canada at any given time, there are approximately 28 million egg-laying hens. Most of them spend their short lives of 12 to 24 months in wire cages (called battery cages), with each hen having less room than a sheet of paper. The hens are crammed five to seven to a cage with no room to express any natural behaviours such as nesting, wing-flapping, dust-bathing or foraging. The frustration from such extreme crowding causes the birds to cannibalize each other. Industry’s answer to this problem is to cut off the hens’ beaks with a hot blade or a laser, which has been scientifically proven to cause extreme pain.

Until now, the bodies of hens that are no longer considered productive (spent hens) have been worthless, so much so that even transporting them to slaughter was uneconomical. On-farm killing and composting has been encouraged, using methods such as gassing, macerating and electrocution.

There are significant welfare problems with both transport and on-farm slaughter. Transportation of farm animals is poorly regulated in Canada for any species, and the vulnerability of spent hens means they are particularly at risk. Their bones are fragile due to excessive egg production and lack of exercise – between 24% and 29% of laying hens have broken bones by the time they reach the processing plant, according to a 1989 study. The battery cages in which they spend their lives are poorly designed, so even removing them from the cages can cause painful injuries, including fractures. Because of their low economic value, each bird is not treated with care and ‘catchers’ can be extremely rough when removing hens from cages and cramming them into transport drawers.

The trip to the slaughterhouse is fraught with yet more misery, including inclement weather, long transport distances, vehicle vibration, etc. Once there, stressed and suffering, they are again pulled from the containers and hung upside down to have their heads dragged through an electrified water bath (called stunning). Too many birds survive the stunning and are fully conscious as their throats are slit.

While on-farm slaughter addresses the problems with transport, welfare is still a serious issue. Because farms are away from the city, the public, including authorities tasked with oversight of animal welfare, does not see what’s happening. All of the killing methods, including gassing, maceration, and electrocution, can cause terrible suffering.

An improvement in economic value is not likely to result in increased welfare. Spent hens will continue to suffer until the public accepts the painful reality of their lives and deaths.  Their suffering can be reduced by purchasing only cage-free eggs or by cutting out eggs altogether.

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Big Ag would benefit from neutered provincial SPCAs

Two disturbing pieces of proposed legislation, one in Ontario, the other in B.C., appear to be aimed at reducing the powers of SPCA constables to protect animals.

In B.C., Bill 24 would see responsibility for hearing the appeals of individuals whose animals have been seized because of distress, move from the B.C. Supreme Court to the BC Farm Industry Review Board (BC FIRB).  This would include both farm and companion animals.  The proposal has caused widespread consternation, with the BC SPCA arguing that it would result in cases taking longer to resolve.  The society has expressed “deep concerns that, based on the recorded history of BC FIRB decisions, the earliest that appeals will be heard is six months and in many cases, it may take much longer.”  Consequently, the BC SPCA has called on the public to oppose the bill.

VHS agrees with the BC SPCA’s position.  VHS board director Rebeka Breder, a lawyer specializing in animal law, told the Georgia Straight: “The bottom line is that this does not help animals in any way or further the protection or welfare of animals in British Columbia. If anything, I find that it impedes it.”

Meanwhile, in Ontario, Bill 47 is proposing to give the province’s agriculture ministry the power to enforce farm animal welfare instead of the OSPCA.  The society says the bill “would cause Ontario to hold the worst Animal Welfare legislation in Canada.”

It is an odd coincidence that two pieces of provincial legislation are proposing to strip powers from the courts or SPCAs (whose sole purpose is to protect animals) and hand them over to provincial agriculture bodies.  The current membership of the BC FIRB includes farmers but no one with specialist experience in animal welfare (let alone companion animals).  The Ontario ministry of agriculture’s vision statement is for “Thriving rural Ontario, agriculture, and food sectors”, while the OSPCA’s vision highlights  “making a measurable difference for animals.”   It would no doubt suit the agriculture industry to have bodies whose focus is not animal welfare overseeing the treatment of livestock instead of professional animal welfare investigators.

In the United States, powerful lobbyists for the agriculture industry have succeeded in convincing legislators in Iowa to outlaw investigations of farm animal cruelty by animal advocates working undercover as employees.  Several other states are considering such “Ag-gag” laws.  Such proposals have yet to emerge in Canada, but it is clear that public concern over factory farms and animal welfare has alarmed the intensive agriculture industry.

Animal advocates should be vigilant and ensure that the legislative moves in B.C. and Ontario do not allow Canada’s Big Ag  to keep its treatment of farm animals away from the scrutiny of animal cruelty investigators and a concerned public.