03/11/2013 03:13 EDT | Updated 05/11/2013 05:12 EDT

The End of Cowshwitz: Will Ethical Bacon & Eggs be Coming to Cowtown?

Farm animal welfare, intensive confinement, caged animals and factory farming.

It is something consumers across Canada are becoming increasingly concerned about and a Calgary retailer is on the leading edge of farm animal welfare developments.

If Calgary Co-op member, and local food activist, Clint Robertson's motion is successful on Wednesday at their AGM, Calgary Co-op will make history by being the first major food retailer in Canada to begin phasing out the intensive confinement of farm animals, specifically caged pork and battery caged hens for eggs.

This is arguably the single most significant initiative in the context of compassion for farm animals in Canada.

Robertson's motion reads:

"That Calgary Co-op phase out the sale of eggs and pork sourced from intensive confinement cages (sow / gestation stalls & battery cages) within the next three years, since this type of intensive confinement has been widely viewed as inhumane and that in the interim Calgary Co-op work with suppliers to find alternatives not sourced from these types of intensive confinement cages."

I spoke with Stephanie Brown, Director of the Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals, and she was noticeably excited about Robertson's motion, saying, "I believe it is [a first in Canada]. We're really excited that Clint is putting this resolution before the shareholders at Calgary Co-op. We're rooting for the shareholders to make the right decision on behalf of sows and hens across Canada, and support the resolution."

Brown added, "This initiative brings a much-needed focus to the cruelty of mother sows kept in metal crates where they can't even turn around for four months -- their entire pregnancy. Consumers need to know how animals are kept on factory farms, because they have a choice in what they purchase. The treatment of animals raised for food in Canada is an issue whose time has come. Consumers hold the key to change. Consumers should exert their power to tell retailers what they want to buy -- or won't buy -- because of cruel treatment of farmed animals. Calgary Co-op can lead the way in Canada."

Not so much

A call to Lorna Braid, Executive Director of Alberta Farm Animal Care Association (AFAC) yielded an unexpected response, becoming surreal at moments. Braid was candid and seemed conflicted on the issue, which I found odd, considering her organization advocates for farm animal welfare, citing on their website as a guiding principle: "Proper handling of livestock in our care is a moral, social, ethical responsibility." It was less peculiar when I viewed the list of organization's who bankroll AFAC. The list of funders is a who's who of industrial agriculture in Alberta.

Braid did say, "We don't take a stance. A lot of consumers are interested in responsible animal care and the issue of housing and they should have a choice. There are enriched cages and there is no clear decision on the benefits of natural, the research is not conclusive. We don't know if natural is better, as other issues may offset the benefit. We support the industry. Cages have been acceptable for a long time."

So, the organization in Alberta presumably advocating for farm animal welfare begins by stating they do not have a position and then do an about turn, going on to say they do have a position which is to support industry. In layman's terms, this means profit before humane treatment of farm animals. For the animal, this means the status quo, or a continuation of what is often macabrely referred to as Cowshwitz.

This bizarre position brings the entire organization's raison d'être into question. Ostensibly, if your client was no longer in a cage, allowed to indulge in natural behaviour, turn around, get some fresh air, feel the sun and have a small bit of freedom before making the ultimate sacrifice to feed us, you'd be supportive of that development. Not so with the Alberta Farm Animal Care Association. With advocates like this, farm animals haven't got a sows chance in a slaughterhouse of seeing any real change to their intensive confinement.

We'll see on Wednesday if the leadership and membership of Calgary Co-op understands the compassionate rationale behind the motion, the benefits of being leaders in farm animal welfare and the historic significance of returning to the co-operative roots of humane farming and agricultural production.

The Calgary Co-op website proudly states, It's Not Business As Usual.

For the sake of farm animals across Alberta and Canada, let's hope so.





*The Calgary Co-op AGM is this Wednesday at 2pm. Only members of the Calgary Co-op as of 01November2013 may vote. Membership is $1. Calgary Co-op operates 22 stores in Calgary.