Opinion Editorial

Trouble in Canada’s dairy industry is good news for cows

Article originally published in the Georgia Straight.

Canada’s dairy industry is in trouble and that could be good news for cows.  Between 1996 and 2015, per-capita consumption of milk in Canada decreased by 21.5 percent, with similar declines in the United States and Europe.

A key reason for the trend is the rise in market share of dairy alternatives—soy, nut, and other plant-based milks—that consumers are turning to in droves. The American dairy industry, in an obvious move to hobble this competition, is trying to get Congress to help outlaw the use of the word milk in marketing any of the nondairy products. Clearly, the industry is running scared.

And it’s no wonder. Revelations of poor animal welfare and evidence of the environment-damaging practices in the industry have been compounded by scientific studies undermining the health claims for dairy products.

Here in B.C., the horrific animal abuse exposed in 2014 at Chilliwack Cattle Sales, Canada’s biggest dairy operation, shocked consumers. The company, which pleaded guilty and paid a total of S300,000 in fines, was characterized as a bad apple by the B.C. Dairy Association, which stated: “We strongly believe this to not be the norm.”

While it’s impossible to know whether or not such deliberate cruelty has occurred at other B.C. dairy farms, inspection reports from the B.C. Milk Marketing Board found that one in four farms in the province failed to comply with the provincial animal-welfare Code of Practice. During an 18-month period starting in January, 2015, the inspections revealed cases of overcrowding, lame or soiled cattle, tails torn off by machinery, branding and dehorning of calves without pain medication, and other examples of poor welfare.

Beyond criminal cruelty and industry-code violations, animal welfare is routinely compromised through standard practices in dairy farming. Contrary to the images used in dairy-product marketing, most cows are denied access to pasture and are kept indoors. Yet research done at the University of B.C. has found that, guess what, cows like to go outside. Further UBC research suggests the public thinks cows should be allowed outside. But most B.C. dairy cows spend their lives confined indoors.

Another inherent issue is the separation of dairy calves from their mothers. Yet another UBC research study found that the calves experience “a negative emotional state” following the separation. The researcher, Prof. Dan Weary, has stated: “We can’t say that separation is just some instantaneous event that may be painful but doesn’t bother the animal….It does bother the animal. It bothers them enough that their mood state changes for at least a couple days.”

Again, a subsequent study found that consumers don’t like the practice, as Weary summarized: “People are dissatisfied with this idea that we’re doing something which seems very unnatural—taking a baby away from its mother in the first few hours of its life—and that we need to have awful good reasons for doing that.”

In short, just about everything in modern dairy farming raises animal-welfare concerns and the public finds it disturbing. 

Consumers may overlook these issues as necessary evils because they believe dairy products to be essential to human health. But that perception is being rapidly debunked by the latest medical research. One major study found that “higher consumption of milk in women and men is not accompanied by a lower risk of fracture and instead may be associated with a higher rate of death.”

On top off all this, the dairy industry is a significant contributor to climate change, producing about four percent of global anthropogenic greenhouse gases. The industry also requires vast amounts of water and has created significant pollution in North AmericaChina, and elsewhere.

Some of the new dairy-free products, such as almond milk, can be resource-intensive but not on the same scale as dairy milk. Newer milks—such as Ripple in the U.S. and Vancouver’s own Veggemo—are made with plentiful peas, giving them a relatively high protein content and an environmentally benign reputation. 

If such alternatives continue to improve and multiply, they are likely to increase their market share at the expense of the dairy industry. If so, it could not only be good news for the cows but also for our health and the environment.

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Tell the government it must address the cruelty of animal transport


Please speak out for animals facing long journeys of preventable suffering by submitting your views to the government’s consultation on  farmed animal transport

The trial of Ontario animal activist Anita Krajnc, who faces jail time for giving water to pigs being transported to slaughter in hot weather, caught the attention of the world’s media last year.  It also brought attention to the suffering of millions of farmed animals routinely transported throughout Canada.

More stories of animal suffering during transport are emerging. The Vancouver Sun recently revealed the deaths of 27 pigs being trucked from Alberta to Vancouver for slaughter in sub-zero winter weather. A necropsy on some of the dead pigs found that “environmental challenges” during the trip affected the pigs’ ability to regulate their body temperature and they died of “cardiopulmonary failure.”

Such stories are not rare. About 700 million farmed animals undergo transport every year in Canada, 14 million of whom become sick or injured in the process and 1.5 million die en route.

Now the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is proposing new animal transport regulations and is asking for feedback on the proposals. This is your chance to speak up for pigs, chickens, cows and other animals who endure journeys of confinement, deprivation and exposure to Canada’s harsh climate.

VHS has responded to the CFIA proposals, with a submission outlining our concerns. If you share our concerns please feel free to use our submission as a guide in providing your own, unique feedback. It’s crucial that your submission be personalized and not identical to ours, as any identical submissions will all be counted as one submission.

The CFIA’s proposed amendments to the regulations concerning animal transport fall far short of protecting animals from suffering. They also fall short of the expectations of Canadians.  A 2016 poll found that 97 per cent of Canadians surveyed believe the country’s transport regulations must be updated to ensure farmed animals are transported in a safe and humane manner.

Please take a few minutes to read our submission and send your own personalized submission to the CFIA, based on the main issues listed below.

Long transport times:

The proposed length of time farmed animals can be transported for without access to food, water and rest is still far too long. Did you know that they are recommending that spent hens can endure 24 hours of transportation after they have spent up to 1 ½ years in cruel battery cages and are suffering from painful weakened bones, feather loss and other serious health issues?

Canada should follow the lead of the European Union and apply an 8 hour transport maximum for all species; including spent hens and cull dairy cows.


Transport trucks:

Poor ventilation and exposure to extreme weather can cause significant suffering, injury and death for animals being transported.

Transport trucks should be required to have temperature-controlled systems.


Space requirements:

The proposed regulations don’t provide specific space requirements for animals during transport. On average, transporters pack between seven and 16 chickens into each .5 m² crate, and there may be as many as 11,000 chickens on one truck.

Canada should follow the lead of the European Union and outline specific space requirements in order to prevent overcrowding.


Handling techniques:

Carrying animals by their legs, wings and head, as well as the use of electric prods is still allowed under the proposed regulations. Such handling methods should be banned and animals should only be handled in a low-stress and calm way.


Tusk removal:

The process of cutting the teeth of boars (de-tusking) without the use of painkillers should be banned. Instead, boars should be transported separately, as is done in the European Union.


Driver training:

Transport companies and drivers should be certified by a third party. Certification should include training focused on animal welfare, appropriate handling methods and special considerations for driving live animals.



Transport records are currently based on the “honour system”. CFIA inspection records reveal some drivers are completely unaware of how many animals they are transporting, even though the regulations require they keep a record.

Electronic systems that can confirm details like travel times, temperatures, speeds, distances, opening/closing of loading door should be required.


Enforcing regulations:

Improved regulations are important, but in order to be effective they must be well-enforced and violations must result in appropriate penalties. Anything less allows penalties to become simply a cost of doing business.

For example, transporting animals who are unable to stand in their natural position is considered a “minor” violation.

There should be a zero tolerance policy for animal welfare violations.



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A chance to speak up for farm animals



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


Twitter: #agnpf



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Happy Herd: connecting with animals


Stephen Wiltshire and Diane Marsh are living proof that connecting with farmed animals can profoundly influence someone’s life. They didn’t set out to become vegan and they certainly didn’t set out to start a farm sanctuary, but life—and the animals—had other plans.


10978626_863955536999879_358044572848752196_nWith an idyllic rural property and a few animals already running around, it didn’t take long before they started rescuing animals in need of care and a home.


Diane says she has a special connection with a young steer named Scooter. When he was just a day or two old, he was in a livestock auction pen destined for slaughter when, she says, he called out to her. “He was scared and came up to me immediately when I went in their pen,” she says. Both Scooter and his friend Sparky went home with Diane that day.


They were sickly calves, a byproduct of the dairy industry that literally discards the males. Mother cows need to keep giving birth in order to lactate, but their babies are taken away immediately so that the milk can be bottled and sent to supermarkets. Calves like Scooter and Sparky typically end up as veal.


One day, Stephen went with Diane to an auction and came across a large male turkey crammed into a small cage at an auction. His sadness was palpable, says Stephen, and Thomas the turkey came home with them. According to Stephen, “Thomas loved people. He would always greet everyone when they drove in the driveway and follow everyone around the property.”



Even though Stephen and Diane only live with a few animals, giving them the care they need is a big undertaking. The day starts with breakfast and cleaning. Lunch is hay for the three cows, fruits and veggies for the donkey and the pigs, and sometimes apples for the goats. Lunch is followed by more cleaning, then dinner. At dusk, the animals need to be “tucked in” for the night. Stephen and Diane both contribute to the feeding, cleaning, and facility maintenance.


On weekends, volunteers often help with various tasks around the property and, of course, get to know the animals. It’s clear that the animals all thrive in the fresh air, ample space, and clean environment. The animals are friendly and calm—the mark of trust that results from loving caregiving.


10406873_817219841673449_2898160627586922887_nStephen and Diane know they can’t save all of the animals who are casualties of our food system, but that doesn’t mean it’s not hard. Diane still thinks about an elderly pig who connected with her at an auction, and Stephen says he wishes they could help them all. He says, “Without a doubt, interacting with farm animals every day in a caring way will make you look differently at animal agriculture.”


To get in touch for a visit and see more pictures of the happy animals of the Happy Herd, visit their Facebook page here.





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Facing jail for giving pigs water



Photo: Toronto Pig Save

Media in Ontario are reporting that an animal activist, Anita Krajnc, is willing to go to jail rather that face fines or a conditional sentence for giving water to pigs being transported to slaughter.

Krajnc is a co-founder of Toronto Pig Save, which holds vigils outside slaughterhouses to draw attention to the plight of pigs and other animals who endure cruel transport and slaughter. She was charged under the Criminal Code with mischief under $5,000 for trying to give water to pigs in a transport truck.  The incident was described by the Burlington Post:

“Krajnc squirted water from a bottle into a transport truck that was stopped at a traffic light at Appleby Line and Harvester Road, just outside the Fearman’s pork plant. A load of hogs inside the truck was being taken to the plant for slaughter.

“Krajnc, the co-founder of Toronto Pig Save, had a member of the organization videotape the incident, which escalated when the truck driver got out of the rig and confronted Krajnc.

TO Pigsave pic
Photo: Toronto Pig Save

“On the video, posted to Facebook, the driver tells Krajnc to stop squirting the liquid inside the truck. She tells him it is water and to be compassionate, that the pigs are hot and thirsty. She continued to give water to the animals. The driver said he was calling the police and got back in his rig. There was no physical confrontation.”

It is a sad day for justice in Canada when a harmless act of compassion can land someone in court, and possibly in jail.  It is no secret that farmed animals in Canada endure horrific conditions when being transported to slaughter. Trying to bring a small measure of relief to suffering animals is something that should be rewarded, not punished.

Toronto Pig Save is to be commended for its efforts to bring attention to this issue and we hope Anita Krajnc receives public support for her courageous and compassionate dedication to helping animals.

Media Release

Why no charges in dairy cruelty case?

Why no charges in dairy cruelty case?

VANCOUVER, June 8, 2015 – The Vancouver Humane Society (VHS) is calling on B.C. Crown Counsel to explain why it has not laid charges in the case of alleged animal cruelty at a dairy farm in Chilliwack last year.

It will be a year on June 9 since the BC SPCA recommended charges against eight employees of Chilliwack Cattle Sales, after an investigation by animal rights advocates revealed alleged acts of extreme cruelty to dairy cows. Video taken at the farm, which showed cows being beaten, kicked and abused, was broadcast by media across the country and provoked widespread public outrage.

VHS contacted Crown Counsel about the case in January but received no response.

VHS spokesperson Peter Fricker said the unusual delay by Crown Counsel was worrying. “We hope the Crown is taking this case seriously and will move forward on charges soon.”


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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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VHS responds to Tim Hortons announcement on animal welfare

VHS issued the following news release in response to Tim Hortons’ announcement of an animal welfare initiative:

May 4, 2012

Tim Hortons responds to customer demands for more humane eggs and pork

Under mounting pressure from animal welfare organizations and consumers, Tim Hortons announced today it will call on its pork suppliers to eliminate the gestation confinement breeding sows and that it plans to purchase at least 10 per cent of its eggs from enriched caging systems by the end of 2013.

The Vancouver Humane Society (VHS) still feels Tim Hortons’ initiative falls short of making necessary improvements to animal welfare, particularly in regards to egg-laying hens. Through VHSs online petition* on Change.Org, more than 30,000 people have urged Tim Hortons to stop the use of cages and crates for hens and sows.

VHS is pleased that Tim Hortons is sending a strong message to the pork industry that change is needed to get animals out of tiny crates,” said Leanne McConnachie, Director of the Vancouver Humane Societys Farm Animal Programs. “Like many consumers nationwide, we are disappointed that the company still refuses to use any cage-free eggs though.”

Approximately 26 million hens produce Canada’s egg supply, and Tim Hortons 10 per cent commitment will only affect about 35,000 hens – the equivalent size of the average battery cage barn. In B.C. alone, more than 300,000 hens are raised in cage-free systems such as free-run, free-range and organic free-range.  Most of Tim Hortons’ competitors have opted to purchase eggs from farms using cage-free systems.

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Please sign petition before Tim Hortons AGM

Conventional battery hens

UPDATE:  Tim Hortons has announced an animal welfare initiative. Details here.  Stay tuned for VHS reaction.

On May 10th, Tim Hortons will hold its annual general meeting in Toronto. A shareholder resolution will be proposed asking Tim Hortons to stop buying eggs and pork from hens and pigs confined in cramped metal cages.

Add YOUR voice to the discussion. Sign our petition here and TELL TIM HORTONS TO STOP SUPPORTING FARM ANIMAL CRUELTY. We have collected more than 23,000 signatures so far – AT LEAST 10,000 is even better.

Please sign and share today. We have only A FEW DAYS LEFT!

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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.