Knowing where our food comes from is an important pathway to empowerment. This knowledge lets us take control of our health. It opens opportunities to reduce our environmental footprint. And we can make choices that foster humane treatment of farm animals.
Fortunately for society, more and more people understand the impact they have every time they sit down to eat.
This month, we have moved the discussion in Canada forward. The National Farm Animal Care Council, a body charged with developing standards for farm animal care in Canada, released a new draft Code of Practice for the pig industry. The code could bring about important changes in the way breeding pigs are treated on Canadian farms.
The Council is composed of industry, government and animal care stakeholders, and its current draft of the Code calls for a mandatory phase out of the use of gestation creates to confine mother pigs for essentially their whole lives. This would mean the end of one of the most inhumane practices used in agriculture today.
Gestation crates are tiny cages barely larger than the animals' bodies -- so small, the animals can't even turn around. These crates are currently used to house most the 1.4-million breeding pigs raised in Canada every year. The complete lack of exercise and stimulation causes a host of physical and psychological problems for these animals, who are, by nature, smart, sensitive, curious and playful.
Regrettably, the draft Code contains a loophole that undermines its goals to improve the welfare of animals on farms. That is, the pork industry would be allowed to lock breeding pigs in gestation crates for up to five weeks at a time, over and over for each pregnancy.
This confinement is wrong for any span of time. So while the draft Code represents progress, it should be amended to phase-out gestation crates altogether -- freeing industry to focus its future investments on group housing facilities.
The phase-out of gestation crates is embraced by a huge majority of Canadians -- 84 per cent in a recent Environics poll.
Putting an end to these inhumane cages is a turning point: It says that, as a society, we don't accept abusing animals this way. Our expanding knowledge about the source of our food has opened our eyes to the simple truth that we can do better, and we have the power to do so.
In September, Dunkin' Donuts announced that it plans to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/26/dunkin-donuts-cage-free-eggs-gestation_n_1916260.html?1348678200" target="_hplink">eliminate all gestation crates</a>, but has not set a timeline. It is also moving toward cage-free eggs.
At the end of May, the country's leading hamburger chain by sales announced a plan to eliminate its suppliers' use of gestation crates by 2022.
On May 15, Denny's announced it would work with its suppliers to end the use of gestation crates for its pork products.
In May, Safeway -- the country's second-largest grocery chain -- said it plans to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/huff-wires/20120507/us-safeway-humane-pork/" target="_hplink">stop buying meat</a> from suppliers that use gestation crates.
On April 23, Burger King pledged to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/25/burger-king-gestation-crates_n_1451703.html" target="_hplink">eliminate the use of pork from pigs raised in crates by 2017</a>. The company also pledged to offer entirely cage-free eggs by 2017.
In March, Wendy's announced it would work with its U.S. and Canadian pork suppliers to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/23/wendys-animal-treatment_n_1375724.html" target="_hplink">phase out the use of gestation crates</a>.
Also in March, Compass Group announced it would <a href="http://www.bizjournals.com/charlotte/blog/going_green/2012/03/compass-group-will-end-contracts-with.html" target="_hplink">phase out the use of meat from pigs raised in gestation crates</a> by 2017. Compass Group runs dining operations at about 10,000 companies, hospitals, senior living centers, schools, colleges and universities, making it the largest food service company in the world.
McDonald's also announced in February its <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/14/mcdonalds-gestation-crates_n_1275942.html" target="_hplink">plan to stop using meat from pig raised in the crates</a> by 2017.
Hormel, the maker of products like Spam, announced in February it <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/02/hormel-gestation-crates_n_1249707.html" target="_hplink">pledges to eliminate most gestation crates by 2017</a>.
Also in February, Bon Appetit announced it would <a href="http://www.latimes.com/business/money/la-fi-mo-bon-appetit-gestation-crates-20120220,0,7675759.story" target="_hplink">stop buying pork from providers who use gestation cates</a>. Bon Appetit runs more than 400 cafes across 31 states.
Smithfield Foods, the world's largest pork producer, announced late last year it would <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/08/smithfield-gestation-crates_n_1136567.html" target="_hplink">end its practice of using gestation crates</a> for pregnant hogs by 2017.
In early July, Oscar Mayer pledged to source its pork from suppliers that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/09/oscar-mayer-gestation-crates_n_1658670.html" target="_hplink">no longer use gestation crates</a>. Oscar Mayer is owned by Kraft Foods.
On July 23, Sysco <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/24/sysco-gestation-crates_n_1698971.html?1343152570" target="_hplink">pledged to work with its producers to stop the use of gestation crates</a>. Sysco is the world's largest broadline food distributor.
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