Canada's pigs are about to get a little more breathing space.
The National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC) has introduced a new Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Pigs that effectively bans the use of controversial gestation crates in which sows are so confined that they are unable to turn around. The code also mandates pain relief during castration and tail docking.
As of July 1, mature female pigs must be kept in groups rather than in the small crates. The regulations do allow for animals who have just bred to be housed in individual stalls for roughly one month, but the new regulations require that the pig be able to stand up without touching the bars on both sides of the stall and to be able to lie down without their udders protruding into the adjacent stall.
However, the new regulations only apply to new construction or replacement stalls, so the more controversial gestation crates will continue to be used for the time being.
Sayara Thurston, a spokesperson with the Humane Society, called the new rules a "watershed moment for farm animals in Canada and throughout North America."
"It signals the beginning of the end of archaic, extreme confinement systems that consumers simply don’t support and which other countries have long-since banned," Thurston said in a statement. "There is still much advancement needed to improve the welfare of pigs raised on Canadian farms, but this Code of Practice is a monumental first step."
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Ag Gag laws are the government's attempt to hide what goes on behind the closed doors of a factory farms. You don't have to be an animal rights activist to get angry about this. If you eat meat, shouldn't it make you mad that the government doesn't want you to see how your food is produced? Thanks to ag gag bills sweeping the country, in many states, it is illegal to film or take photographs of what goes on inside factory farms. The reason? The government is afraid of what might be discovered.
The image you see here, provided by Mercy For Animals, is just a small snapshot of the disgusting conditions animals are forced to endure at factory farms. Because of the filth, the animals are given antibiotics to prevent disease (which doesn't really work). Often, antibiotics are also given to promote unnatural growth. This in turn is making human illness harder to treat because of new strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
According to a report done by the Humane Society entitled "The Impact of Industrialized Animal Agriculture On World Hunger," nearly 80 percent of the world's soybeans and up to 50 percent of the world's corn are fed to animals killed for meat instead of directly to humans. Animal agriculture is inefficient from a world hunger perspective because we are feeding our livestock food that could be used for humans.
Many people don't realize that animal agriculture is one of the worst industries from a worker health perspective. According to OSHA, hazards from factory farming jobs can include everything from chronic pain to cardiovascular illness and death. Many of the workers are also undocumented, leading to a situation in which they are fearful of reporting their illness or injury and therefore do not receive treatment. Human Rights Watch calls worker conditions in factory farms "systematic human rights abuses."
Because of the unsanitary conditions in factory farms, they are virtual breeding grounds for harmful diseases. Bird flu, swine flu and mad cow disease are just some of the risks posed to humans from industrialized animal agriculture.
A "downed cow" is a cow too sick or injured to walk. Downed cows are not supposed to be slaughtered for human consumption but are often kicked, prodded, and beaten to get them to slaughter anyway.
Factory farming uses up precious natural resources. Animal agriculture contributes to deforestation and degrades the land it does use. Meat production also wastes water. In fact, it takes 2,400 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of meat, but just 25 gallons to produce 1 pound of wheat.
Would you want to eat pork from this farm? If pigs on our factory farms are turning green and being dumped into buckets (image courtesy of Mercy For Animals), then it means our current methods aren't working. You don't have to be a vegetarian to understand that conditions like these are harmful to everyone: the animals, people and the environment.
It's no secret that animals we eat have to be killed to get to our plates. What is a secret is the systematic animal rights abuses that go on at factory farms worldwide. There are very few laws to protect the welfare of factory farmed animals as it is, but it's all too common to see workers kicking, punching, stomping on or otherwise abusing animals unnecessarily.
This is called a macerator. It's a machine that grinds up living baby chicks that are no longer of use to the animal agriculture industry. Even for omnivores, do we really believe the best way to dispose of animals is the cruelest way imaginable? This is a common practice at factory farms.
In gestation crates, pigs are confined to live their whole lives in what is essentially a box. They can not turn around or take more than a step or two forward or backwards. Imagine living your whole life standing up, with your arms at your sides and not being able to do any of the activities that feel natural to you. Welcome to a factory farmed pig's existence. Pigs aren't alone in their suffering, hens suffer their whole lives in battery cages.
According to the United Nations, the livestock sector contributes 18 percent globally to greenhouse gas emissions. Every one should be angry about the impact factory farming has on our environment.
The government provides gigantic subsidies for animal agriculture industries like beef, pork and poultry farms. A chart created by the New York Times in 2010 shows the difference between the recommendations Americans are supposed to heed for personal nutrition and the industries which get the highest federal subsidies. While whole foods like vegetables and grains are supposed to be at the heart of our diet, the meat and dairy industries receive nearly three-quarters of the total amount of money available for federal agriculture. Shouldn't we be asking why?
Regardless of what diet you choose, factory farming is bad for everyone. To learn more about how to get involved visit Mercy For Animals.
The crates are used to house pregnant or recently-mated pigs. Pregnant pigs have a tendency to behave aggressively. Sows are kept in the stalls during their four month pregnancy and are released to give birth before being impregnated again and sent back to the stalls.
The stalls have long been a target of environmental groups. The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has called them the most "concerning practice" in Canadian farming, according to the The Province. Last year, Ryan Gosling published a plea for Canada to ban the crates completely.
In 2012, non-profit Mercy for Animals released video footage of the conditions at a pig farm in Manitoba that showed exactly what it's like to live in a gestation crate. The video is extremely graphic.
The industry was initially hesitant to embrace the new rules due to the costs involved, but now that more and more retailers and restaurants want pork raised in less-confined conditions, farmers are starting to come around. McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and Tim Hortons have all announced that they will only use meat from more humanely-housed animals. Walmart Canada, Loblaws and Costco Canada have also committed to getting their pork from operations that do not use gestation crates within the next nine years.
"Change is not easy," Carolyn MacLaren, the general manager of the BC Farm Animal Care Council, told The Province. "But philosophically this is something that we all agree on. We’re moving in the right direction."
The new rules are not the result of Conservative government policy, since the NFACC operates independently.
The EU introduced similar guidelines several years ago and many European nations have already moved to ban gestation crates completely.
The pig farming industry has come under intense scrutiny of late after an investigation by the Humane Society in the U.S. discovered that sows in gestation crates are being fed the ground-up intestines of baby pigs. In some cases it is possible that the pigs are being fed their own deceased young. An outbreak of porcine epidemic diarrhea in the U.S. and Canada has killed millions of piglets, leading the industry to use them as feed.
Still, animal rights groups are celebrating their victory on gestation crates while looking toward the future.
Barbara Cartwright, CEO of the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, described the new rules a "turning point" while calling on farmers to "provide even higher standards than the Code requires."