03/25/2014 05:41 EDT | Updated 05/25/2014 05:59 EDT

What If You Had To Live in a Cage the Size of Your Own Body?

Canadians are having an important conversation about where our food comes from. We're talking about farm animals and how they're treated in this country.

This month, we celebrate the beginning of the end of gestation crates in this Canada. For those who may have missed the public debate -- which even Toronto Star editorial pages took part in -- gestation crates are cages currently used to house most pregnant pigs in the pork industry.

Imagine being trapped in an elevator no larger than your own body, stuck in that claustrophobic, windowless space, with no chance of escape. Imagine the first hour. The first week. Imagine spending a month straight in that space, with no sunlight, unable even to turn your body around, and nothing to do. Now multiply that month about 40 times; that is the life of most mother pigs in the pork industry.

While the new ban on these cages doesn't take effect for many years and will still allow animals to be confined for several weeks at a time, it does offer Canadian pigs significantly better lives than they have now, which is something we all can agree is a good thing. Banning these archaic confinement systems is something no country should hesitate for a second to do; Canada is finally catching up with the European Union and Australia in banning these cages, while the U.S. and other countries continue to lag behind.

With this ban, the National Farm Animal Care Council has made perhaps the biggest advancement in farm animal welfare Canada has ever seen. It is not, however, the end of the journey. It is the first step to bringing welfare standards in line with Canadians' fundamental beliefs about how animals should be treated.

And there is still more to talk about. Under our current laws, animals like cats and dogs, members of our own families, have about the same legal rights as my cell phone, which is to stay they're viewed almost strictly as property. Most of the farm animals who end up on our dinner plates -- sentient animals with the same capacity to suffer as our pets -- don't have any effective legal protection at all. For the majority of farm animals in Canada, federal law does not even guarantee humane slaughter -- the smallest dignity we could afford them.

Canadians are compassionate people, and the truth about industrial animal farming can be hard to swallow. Dinner parties turn heated at the mere mention of veal calves or foie gras. A nation that cares deeply about animals simply can't stomach the thought about what those confined inside industrial farms endure. Fortunately, more and more Canadians are paying close attention to what is happening in our food supply, and are calling for change. Consumers have the right to know where the food they are buying for their families is coming from, and the right to demand better. The public wants animal agriculture industries to treat animals with the basic respect that they deserve, and they are making their voices heard.

Banning the lifelong confinement of pigs in gestation crates is an enormous achievement, and a testament to how much our nation values fairness for all creatures. Yes, we have further to go, but this is a moment to celebrate. And as these important conversations continue and develop, this will surely be the first of many such moments to come.


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