I take my beloved dog George with me almost everywhere I go. Once, George even shared the stage with me on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.
The bond I have with George is not unique. Like me, countless Canadians share their homes and lives with pets they consider to be part of the family. We know that they have individual personalities and quirks (George loves apples, for example) and that they feel both physical and mental pain.
Our pets share these traits with other animals; including those we don't share our lives with, such as farm animals. As primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall has noted, "Farm animals feel pleasure and sadness, excitement and resentment, depression, fear and pain. They are far more aware and intelligent than we ever imagined ... they are individuals in their own right."
Pigs, specifically, outperform even chimpanzees on some tests of cognitive prowess.
So of course these animals also deserve our care and attention. That's why I was so heartened to learn that Canada is taking steps toward improving the treatment of animals in the food supply.
Blog continues below slideshow...
<a href="http://www.thestar.com/news/article/1112005--maple-lodge-farms-hit-with-60-criminal-charges">The Canadian Food Inspection Agency laid 60 criminal charges</a> against food company Maple Lodge Farms, according to <em>The Toronto Star</em>. The company was charged for routinely allowing thousands of chickens to die during transportation from farms to slaughterhouses.
Toronto city council <a href="http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/story/2012/11/27/toronto-zoo-elephants.html">recognized the needs of three elephants</a> at the Toronto Zoo and voted to move them to a sanctuary in California.
The province of Quebec created a provincial animal welfare body to help promote better care for animals in the province.
In 2012, <a href="http://www.citynews.ca/2011/09/21/toronto-bans-the-sale-of-cats-and-dogs-in-pet-stores/">Toronto followed Richmond, B.C. and became the second Canadian city to restrict the sale of cats and dogs in pet shops</a> environmentalists deemed unhealthy. The city of <a href="http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/mississauga/article/1218232--mississauga-bans-t-store-sales-of-privately-bred-cats-and-dogs">Mississauga has also banned the sale of all privately bred cats and dogs</a> (where the animals are often bred in deplorable conditions) in pet stores.
In 2012, <a href="http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/court-ruling-compels-ottawa-to-protect-killer-whale-habitat/article4107454/">the Federal Court of Appeals ruled the Minister of Fisheries must protect critical habitats for orca whales</a> as outlined in the Species at Risk Act.
Last year, <a href="http://www.thestar.com/business/article/1173020--tim-hortons-puts-more-eggs-in-animal-welfare-basket?bn=1">Tim Hortons gave its pork suppliers until the end of 2012 to have "clear plans" in place to phase out the use of gestation stalls</a>.
<a href="http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/02/10/dog-ear-cropping-banned-in-manitoba-as-inhumane-we-need-to-change-breed-standards-vet-says/">Manitoba became the second province after Newfoundland to ban the practice of cropping dogs' ears</a>, a procedure that can lead to infection and illness.
<a href="http://www.globaltvbc.com/ubc+ordered+to+release+more+information+on+animal+research+facility/6442571140/story.html">The Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner ordered the University of British Columbia to release all details of their animal research program.</a> This is a good first step in creating more transparency in how taxpayers’ money is used in public research facilities, according to Global News.
<a href="http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/story/2012/05/03/nl-animal-act-503.html">Newfoundland and Labrador passed a new Animal Health and Protection Act which includes increased penalties for animal abuse.</a> Anyone convicted of animal cruelty or neglect can now face fines of up to $50,000 or six months jail time.
<a href="http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/333139">After an international outcry, the Aquarium des Iles in Quebec, released 6-month old pups Zak and Mika back into the wild</a>. Both harp seals were scheduled for euthanasia.
The Canadian Transport Authority will now allow Air Canada to discontinue the transportation of primates for medical research.
Darwin, <a href="http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/story/2012/12/10/toronto-ikea-monkey.html">the five-month-old "Ikea monkey" is now in the care of Story Book Farms Primate Sanctuary</a> in southern Ontario.
<a href="http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/1241961--marineland-animals-suffering-former-staffers-say">Seals, sea lions, walruses and dolphins at Marineland are suffering fur loss, skin damage and even blindness</a> because of recurring water problems at the Niagara Falls, Ont. theme park.
<a href="http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/article/1240875">In 2012, it was announced Toronto's newest aquarium</a> will house sand tiger sharks taken from the wild.
Last year, <a href="http://thechronicleherald.ca/canada/153016-senate-committee-recommends-cull-of-grey-seals">it was reported Ottawa should approve a cull of 70,000 seals off Canada's East Coast.</a> The decision was made as part of a controversial four-year experiment aimed at helping the recovery of cod stocks.
China is the world’s largest exporter of fur garments, mostly made from mink, fox and raccoon dog. Even though <a href="http://www.thestar.com/news/world/article/1218580--how-canada-gets-dog-and-cat-fur-from-china">most Western countries prohibit imports of cat and dog fur, Canada does not</a>.
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/11/22/whistler-sled-dogs-killer-robert-fawcett-sentence_n_2174775.html">Robert Fawcett, the man who pleaded guilty to killing at least 56 sled dogs in Whistler B.C.,</a> was given a small fine and no jail time. The B.C. court system missed an opportunity to set new standards for preventing animal cruelty in the province.
<a href="http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/story/2012/07/13/calgary-chuck-wagon-horse-death-folo.html">Three horses died as a result of chuckwagon races during last summer's Calgary Stampede.</a> Many activist groups have called for a suspension of these types of races.
Last year, W5 exposed a Winnipeg farm for performing inhumane practices like <a href="http://www.ctvnews.ca/w5/undercover-investigation-reveals-disturbing-and-inhumane-treatment-of-factory-farm-animals-1.1070919">castration without pain medication, confinement housing and “thumping” of piglets</a>. However, researchers concluded the farm was within accepted industry standards and, likely, did not break any laws.
In 2012, it was noted do-it-yourself pet surgeries were on the rise. One report found that <a href="http://www.castanet.net/news/Canada/82605/Do-it-yourself-pet-surgery">dog owners used elastrator bands to neuter their dogs</a>.
<a href="http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/security-services-deem-environmental-animal-rights-groups-extremist-threats/article2340162/">Federal security services identified Greenpeace and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals as extremist groups</a> that were capable of carrying out attacks against Canadian infrastructures.
Specifically, Canada's National Farm Animal Care Council, which sets regulations for Canada's agricultural system when it comes to how animals are treated, recently released a draft code of practice for the pork industry to follow. Within this draft code is a mandate that the pork industry stop relegating, for nearly their entire lives, mother pigs to tiny cages so small they can't even turn around.
Currently, mother pigs are kept in these cages called "gestation crates" for four months while pregnant, moved to another cage to give birth, reimpregnated and put back into a gestation crate for the cycle to repeat. It adds up to years of immobilization and millions of smart, inquisitive animals relegated to iron maidens.
The process has been criticized by veterinarians, animal protection advocates, consumers and even major food retailers as inhumane and unnecessary. Tim Hortons, for example, announced recently that it is working - alongside 60 other major food companies - to eliminate these cages from their supply chain entirely.
While NFACC's progress is important and laudable, there is a major loophole in the code that I hope will be closed. As written, the draft still allows the pork industry to lock pigs in gestation crates for up to five weeks at a time. Over a pig's short life, which is just four years long, this amounts to about nine months of solitary confinement in a cage so small she can't even turn her own body around.
Pigs in tiny crates suffer beyond anything most of us can easily imagine. They are unable even to turn around for weeks at a time, so that their muscles and bones deteriorate. And these extremely social and intelligent animals lose their minds from being denied any social or psychological stimulation at all.
I applaud NFACC for working to improve life for Canada's pigs, and I join Farm Sanctuary and Humane Society International in asking that it close this dangerous loophole by prohibiting the pork industry from confining pigs for weeks at a time - something I would never dream of doing to George, and that no compassionate Canadian would ever do to any animal.
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bruce-friedrich/whistleblower-suppression_b_2559769.html">Ag Gag laws</a> 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 <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/food-integrity-campaign/food-industry-whistleblower-laws_b_2593152.html">ag gag bills </a>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 <a href="www.mercyforanimals.org">Mercy For Animals</a>, 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 <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/16/factory-farms-antibiotic-resistance-doctors_n_928140.html">antibiotic-resistant bacteria.</a>
According to a report done by the Humane Society entitled <a href="http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/user_upload/animalwelfare/HSI--The%20Impact%20of%20Industrialized%20Animal%20Agriculture%20on%20World%20Hunger.pdf">"The Impact of Industrialized Animal Agriculture On World Hunger,"</a> 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. <a href="http://www.osha.gov/archive/SLTC/agriculturaloperations/recognition.html">According to OSHA,</a> 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. <a href="http://www.hrw.org/reports/2005/usa0105/usa0105.pdf">Human Rights Watch</a> calls worker conditions in factory farms "systematic human rights abuses."
Because of the unsanitary conditions in factory farms, they are virtual breeding grounds for <a href="http://www.motherearthnews.com/Natural-Health/Meat-Poultry-Health-Risk.aspx#axzz2NwosyaGs">harmful diseases</a>. Bird flu, swine flu and mad cow disease are just <a href="http://www.hsi.org/issues/flu/">some of the risks</a> posed to humans from industrialized animal agriculture.
A "downed cow" is a cow too sick or injured to walk. Downed cows are <a href="http://www.onegreenplanet.org/lifestyle/how-you-can-help-change-usda-policy-on-sick-and-injured-animals/">not supposed to be slaughtered for human consumption</a> but are often kicked, prodded, and beaten to get them to slaughter anyway.
Factory farming uses up precious natural resources. Animal agriculture <a href="http://awellfedworld.org/issues/environmentalresources">contributes</a> to deforestation and degrades the land it does use. Meat production also wastes water. In fact, <a href="http://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-food/meat-wastes-natural-resources.aspx"> 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 <a href="www.mercyforanimals.org">Mercy For Animals</a>), 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 <a href="http://www.aspca.org/fight-animal-cruelty/farm-animal-cruelty/">systematic animal rights abuses</a> that go on at factory farms worldwide. There are <a href="http://www.aspca.org/Fight-Animal-Cruelty/farm-animal-cruelty/legal-protections-for-farm-animals"> very few laws</a> to protect the welfare of factory farmed animals as it is, but it's all too common to see workers <a href="http://www.butterballabuse.com/">kicking, punching, stomping on</a> or otherwise abusing animals unnecessarily.
This is called a <a href="http://www.mercyforanimals.org/hatchery/photo-gallery.asp">macerator</a>. 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<a href="http://www.mercyforanimals.org/pigabuse/"> gestation crates</a>, 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 <a href="http://www.mercyforanimals.org/ohiofresheggs/what_the_experts_say.asp">battery cages. </a>
According to the <a href="http://www.fao.org/docrep/010/a0701e/a0701e00.HTM">United Nations</a>, 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 <a href="http://grist.org/article/stop-the-environmental-subsidy-for-factory-farms/">provides gigantic subsidies</a> for animal agriculture industries like beef, pork and poultry farms. <a href="http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/03/09/why-a-big-mac-costs-less-than-a-salad/">A chart</a> 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 <a href="http://www.mercyforanimals.org">Mercy For Animals</a>.