On Wednesday, March 13th, the membership of Calgary Co-op voted in favour of eliminating caged eggs and pork in their 24 stores located in Calgary and region. Calgary Co-op boasts a membership of 440,000, making it one of the largest cooperatives in North America.
The successful vote, held right here in Cowtown, the heart of Stampede country, is a forceful statement on farm animal welfare, compassionate approaches to agriculture, sustainable food systems and a strong message to an industry floundering in horrific cruelty.
The vote itself was democratic and the debate on Co-op member Clint Robertson's initiated motion was open. The Parliamentarian, a former member of the PPCLI, kept the speaker's list flowing, allowing all Co-op members an opportunity to speak.
A number of members spoke in favour of the motion, including myself [full disclosure]. Then, out of nowhere, a steady stream of industry lobbyists began to attack the motion. They are a tone deaf lot, not understanding that Co-op members no longer wanted to tolerate the cruel and unethical conditions that these farm animals suffer. Their argument was too little, too callous, too shallow, too cruel, too late. As it stands, their industry is in a race to the bottom. Calgary Co-op members see our agricultural system as a pursuit of quality.
Their industry has been talking about ethical changes to caging and self regulation for decades with no action or results and an actual increase in caging systems. They like to use the oxymoronic term, enriched cages, to dupe the public. They like to deceive the public with the mantra of increased costs, when in fact their infrastructure costs will decrease along with equipment and equipment maintenance costs. Lower overhead and offsets can assist farmers with increasing their margins.
The farmers are not well served by their lobbyists. The idea that the status quo must be maintained, whatever the cost or accompanying evil, is no longer resonating with the consumer. Unlike the message the lobbyists and producer associations brainwash their farmers with, farmers are not prison guards of caged animals. Farmers are a key component of a complex food system that needs to respond to consumer demand, and in the case of the Calgary Co-op, that translates to the elimination of cruelty and substantially increased compassion.
More frightening, is an appalling and eerie sense of entitlement from these detached lobbyists. You get a sense they believe their own propaganda. The insanity of a distorted food system has trapped them in their own lies. They truly believe, as if conditioned, that they are the ordained farmers, the only ones capable of raising farm animals. They exist unaware of the recent and not so recent developments in agriculture and consumers' increased awareness of the horrors of modern agriculture. It is as if they exist in a time warp where there is no google, youtube, twitter and hidden cameras. They seemingly have no knowledge of sustainable agriculture, cruelty free farming, local food systems, compassionate agriculture, free run, free range, cage free, the list goes on, all foreign terms to this band of detached, delusional, quasi defenders of farm animals. A shameless fox in charge of the vulnerable hen house, and the public is fully on to them. In a big way.
Blog continues after slideshow
In an industrial egg-producing facility, about half of the chicks will be male and would grow up to be roosters, which do not lay eggs and therefore provide no incentive for the breeder to preserve. Most of the male chicks are usually killed shortly after being sexed.
A typical cage is about the size of a filing cabinet drawer and holds eight to 10 hens.
The young piglets stay with their mothers for two to three weeks, after which their teeth are clipped, tails cut and the males are castrated – all without anaesthetic, according to the Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals. "The piglets are taken away to be fattened in nursery pens on concrete floors, then to “grower” pens, and finally to “finisher” pens until they reach slaughter weight of 250 pounds at six months old," the CCFA adds.
The CCFA says pigs may be legally transported in Canada without water, food or rest, for 36 hours. Photo: Pigs from Manitoba destined for Mexico died enroute in Texas after being left for days in a transport trailer without water in temperatures of over 90 degrees Farenheit.
The Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals estimates that 98 per cent of Canada's 26 million egg-laying hens are kept in small, crammed "battery cages." Pictured here is a feces-covered hen at an Ontario egg farm.
Each bird has less space than a sheet of notebook paper, according to the Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals.
Unlike free range hens pictured here, hens in cages are not able to perform natural behaviours such as nesting, perching, dust-bathing and stretching a wing or walking around.
Out of the 30 million pigs produced every year in Canada for slaughter, most are born to sows who are kept in two-feet-wide metal gestation crates, where they are unable to even turn around during their four-month pregnancy, says the Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals.
The European Union banned battery cages as of January 1, 2012. Photo: Former battery hens roost in the barn of their new home.
Early battery cages were often used for selecting hens based on performance since it is easy to track how many eggs each hen is laying if only one hen is placed in a cage. Later, this was combined with artificial insemination, giving a technique where each egg's parentage is known. This method is still used today.
The passage of California Proposition 2 in 2008 aimed to reduce or eliminate problems associated with battery cages. A standard for space relative to free movement and wingspan was set, rather than cage size.
Spatial restriction can lead to a wide range of abnormal behaviours, some of which are injurious to the hens or their cagemates.
Being indoors, hens in battery cages do not see sunlight. While there is no scientific evidence for this being a welfare problem, some animal advocates indicate it is a concern.
According to World's Poultry Science Journal, flocks are sometimes force molted, rather than being slaughtered, to reinvigorate egg-laying. This involves complete withdrawal of food (and sometimes water) for 7 to 14 days or sufficiently long to cause a body weight loss of 25 to 35%
When the notion of uncaged farm animals who are allowed to exercise natural behaviours, actually see the sun, walk in a field, interact with others of their species -- in essence live within the span of their short existence -- is opposed by industry, you begin to not just have a glimpse, but a full realization of how heartless, cruel and broken the agricultural system has become.
In the end, the Calgary Co-op membership approved the motion and the hens, pigs and consumers won one for a change. The question now is, will other Canadian retailers act on the leadership of the Calgary Co-op members and commit to eliminating products associated with cruelty from their supply chain?
Postscript: The Calgary Co-op has annual sales of over $1 Billion/year. This is the largest Canadian general food & services retailer to ban intensively caged eggs & pork.
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