Recently CTV's W5 aired an episode called "Food for Thought," which included undercover video shot by Mercy for Animals. The images depict pigs in Manitoba housed in gestation stalls apparently suffering as a result of their living conditions and at the hands of their human minders. It is difficult viewing, but raises important questions about the treatment of animals used for food in Canada, and more broadly North America.
The video shows pigs with open wounds living confined in tight gestation stalls, piglets being castrated without anesthetic and piglets killed with blunt force trauma, which involves slamming their heads onto concrete floors and metal posts. Mercy's investigator sought employment at Puratone Corporation and was assigned to work at a hog breeding facility. Puratone, which was recently acquired by Maple Leaf Foods, says it is "one of the largest hog producers in North America," with 28,000 breeding sows and more than 500,000 hogs sold annually.
Responding to the footage, Puratone head Ray Hildebrand wrote: "we are disturbed by some of the images shown in the video...which do not reflect our animal welfare policy and principles." He goes on adding, "over our 25 years of farming operations we have strictly followed regulations and industry best practices regarding animal welfare." Therein lies the rub. While Puratone expresses concern with some actions and swears compliance with the law, the hard truth is that much of what the video reveals is likely standard industry practice and not in violation of federal or provincial law.
*The following info is from the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies
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<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.
In case soothing reassurances are not enough to lull Canadians back into complacent trust, the Canadian pork industry leapt into crisis management. They called for a review initiated by the Centre for Food Integrity, an American organization claiming to build "consumer trust and confidence" in the food system. SourceWatch and the Centre for Media and Democracy describe CFI as an "industry front group." Indeed, CFI's membership is a veritable who's who of North America's food industry giants. CFI's role is purportedly to provide "balanced information" and "correct misinformation" about the food system. The CFI-initiated review found that most of what is seen in the video footage is "widely considered acceptable and humane." What then is one to make of Puratone's claim that the circumstances revealed by the footage do not reflect their animal welfare policy and principles?
Animals used in food production in Canada exist in a virtual legal vacuum. Take for example Manitoba's Animal Care Act, which is the legislation that one might assume applies to the pigs at Puratone. Although it prohibits causing distress and suffering to animals, that law creates an exemption for suffering and distress caused in agricultural uses. Manitoba is not unique because animal welfare laws in other Canadian jurisdictions contain similar exemptions for agricultural operations and "generally accepted" industry practices. As a result, the overwhelming majority of animals in Canada, numbering in the tens of millions, are outside the protection of the law.
This legal landscape, coupled with self-regulation through industry-dominated voluntary standards creates conditions for suffering to proliferate out of sight. In addition to the absurdity inherent in current animal welfare laws, our legal system treats animals used for food, like all animals, including the cats and dogs we adore, as mere property. This means that across North America billions of animals are raised each year in industrial operations, where they are simply living widgets.
Take chickens for example: Canada allows battery cages to raise birds for their eggs. Caged chickens are de-beaked early in life to prevent pecking of other birds in the cage or plucking of their own feathers. They do these things because they are stressed, living in a cramped unnatural environment. Some say that as a result many battery chickens literally go mad.
In absence of substantive legal standards, robust enforcement, accountability and transparency we end up with a race to the bottom; volume and profit, dressed in the language of "efficiency," are the key drivers and animals become expendable production machines. While it may create short-term economic gains, such a system puts us on morally unstable ground.
There are better ways to treat animals used for food. Several jurisdictions have outlawed gestation stalls and battery cages. Some U.S. states have moved to improve the conditions in which animals live, with California being the most prominent recent example. Improving the welfare of Canada's food animals is not rocket science. It does not need endless study and further delay as the industry is wont to argue. It requires a strong commitment to act decisively and with compassion by all of us, as citizens, consumers and human beings.