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Codes of practice and the National Farm Animal Care Council

The development of the codes is currently directed by the federally funded National Farm Animal Care Council, of which the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies (CFHS) is a founding member. The CFHS is the only animal welfare organization that is a member of the council. The CFHS has been an active participant in the development of these codes of practice since their inception.

We thank our member organization BC SPCA for supplying the following information:

What are codes of practice?

Canada’s Codes of Practice for the care and handling of farm animals lay out national expectations for animal welfare as arrived at by consensus between the farmers, veterinarians, scientists, government agencies, SPCAs and humane societies who are members of the National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC).

Requirements for farm animal care

The Codes outline minimum requirements and recommended best practice and serve as reference documents for animal cruelty laws, setting out generally accepted practices of animal management. They also form the foundation of on-farm animal welfare assurance programs operated by some farming associations and are used widely as an educational tool to inform farming professionals about sound management practices for the housing, care and transport of their animals.

Changes to Canada’s Codes of Practice for farm animals

A new process for the development of Codes is in place, which involves an independent and publicly available scientific review that informs each Code’s content. The Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Dairy Cattle was the first to be redeveloped under this new process. Published in 2009, it demonstrates the value in the new process through the great number of new animal care requirements it includes – including a prohibition on tail docking and a requirement for pain relief to be used when dehorning or castrating cattle.

In 2010 and 2011, NFACC launched revision processes for the Codes for beef cattle, horses, pigs, sheep, farmed mink and farmed fox with funding from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Agri-Flexibility program. These Codes are slated for completion in 2013 and will aim to address issues such as:

*Housing systems and space provisions for animals

*Painful practices like castration, dehorning and tail docking

*Care and treatment for sick and injured animals

*Use of electric prods and other handling methods

*Euthanasia methods

Background

In the early 1980’s, the CFHS pushed for regulations for the on-farm care of animals. At the time there were laws covering the transport and slaughter of animals, but nothing covering the treatment of animals on the farm.

After considerable consultation, the federal government proposed, as a compromise, the development of national codes of practice. These codes would be established as voluntary guidelines to encourage producers and transporters to adhere to a minimum standard of treatment for the animals in their care. Codes were chosen over legislation because they could be developed and revised more quickly and cost-effectively. They were established with the expectation that they would be reviewed every 5 years and revised according to new scientific knowledge and technological advances.

With funding from the federal government, the CFHS coordinated the development of the codes during the 1980’s, using a committee that included representatives from each specific producer group, veterinarians, scientists and government. The codes focused specifically on the need for adequate air, water and feed; safe housing and sufficient space; regular supervision and effective health care; and sensible handling.

The CFHS was the only animal welfare organization involved in the development of the codes of practice. From the beginning, we voiced our concerns that the codes merely outlined standard practices, rather than best practices, and that adherence to them by producers was completely voluntary. Nonetheless, as the only animal welfare organization involved, we felt it was important to continue to be there at the table to push for higher standards and better implementation.
nfacc logo

In 2002, the government put a hold on code development and launched a consultation that resulted in the formation of a new organization, the National Farm Animal Care Committee (NFACC), of which the CFHS is a founding member. One of the specific objectives for NFACC was to propose a new process for developing codes. The CFHS was instrumental in pushing for a more stringent and transparent process for code development and review.

The CFHS has some concerns that NFACC is dominated by producer organizations, but we feel it is a worthwhile collaboration and it is important for the CFHS to be involved.

The new code development process was finalized by NFACC in 2009 and is a substantial improvement over the old process. The new process requires the involvement of an independent scientists’ committee at the beginning stage and stipulates that codes must include items worded as firm requirements in addition to those worded as recommended practices. It also includes more transparency and an opportunity for public comment.

A revision of the Code for Dairy Cattle was completed in 2009 under the new process, setting out 30 new requirements for the welfare of dairy cattle. It is widely felt that this code lays out some of the highest standards for dairy cattle welfare in the world.

In April 2010, the government announced the approval of $3.4 million dollars in funding to the NFACC over the next three years. The bulk of the funding will go towards updating the codes of practice for five farm industries and initiating new codes in three additional industries.

Several codes are now in the process of being revised: beef, equine, sheep, pigs, fox (farmed for fur) and mink. The CFHS has representatives at the table of each development committee, firmly advocating for the inclusion of the highest standards possible from an animal welfare perspective.

This new three-year funding will also support two national conferences, a stakeholder workshop on market issues and mass euthanasia of farm animals, and the completion of an “on-farm animal care assessment model” by the NFACC. The model is intended to be used by industry associations that decide to develop programs to assess whether the codes of practice in their respective industries are being followed by producers.

On-farm assessment: are the codes being followed?

The CFHS believes that regular on-farm audits are necessary to ensure the effectiveness of the codes. Without objective, third-party audits, how will the public (or the industry itself) know if producers are following their code? Under a third-party system, an independent, non-industry body would inspect farms to ensure that codes are being consistently followed across the country.

Currently, the only way it ever comes to the attention of animal welfare authorities that a farmer is not meeting a standard included in the relevant code of practice is when a member of the public makes a complaint to a humane society, SPCA or other body tasked with enforcement of animal protection laws (in some provinces, this is the provincial department of agriculture). Where possible, an investigation is undertaken, and if evidence is found of a code being violated, the farmer may be charged with an offense under provincial animal protection laws. However, with many livestock practices happening privately, the public rarely sees or has a chance to report on possible incidents where farm animals may be treated poorly.

Some industry associations have voluntarily developed their own programs to assess animal care among producers. For instance, the Canadian Pork Council released its “Animal Care Assessment Tool” in 2005 with a revised version in 2010. The CFHS commends the council for initiating an assessment program, though we have concerns about some serious weaknesses in the current code, such as the continued acceptance of sow stalls and the high stocking density for hogs.

The Chicken Farmers of Canada has also developed an “Animal Care Assessment Program”, which the CFHS was invited to review in 2008. Based on considerable review and input, the CFHS agreed to support the implementation of this program. The Chicken Farmers of Canada are to be commended for introducing a program that seeks to address the question of verification.

The CFHS continues to push for a system of independent, third-party assessment of all farms across the country and mandatory adherence to the codes.

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