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Farming practices in Canada have changed dramatically over the last 50 to 60 years. The number of small family farms has significantly declined, and larger intensive farms have become the norm for food production in the 21st century. Facilities that increased mechanization and confinement were introduced to reduce labour costs and address some animal health issues.
Unfortunately, these housing systems resulted in new animal welfare challenges, including behavioural restriction of animals due to confinement and crowding. Most egg-laying chickens are kept in battery cages where they are confined so tightly they can’t spread their wings. Breeding sows are kept in restricting stalls where they can only move one step backwards or forwards.
Every year, more than 650 million animals are slaughtered for food in Canada, most of them poultry. Most Canadians assume the government ensures the humane treatment of farm animals and are shocked to discover the lack of monitoring of farms across the country. Canada has no regulations stipulating how animals should be treated on farms other than federal and provincial animal cruelty laws, and these are only used to prosecute livestock producers in cases of rare and egregious abuse, such as when animals are neglected to the point of starvation.
Once animals leave the farm, the conditions are no better. Current transportation regulations regulations allow animals to be transported for up to 52 hours without food, water or rest, and trucks are poorly equipped for meeting animals’ needs during transport. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has for years been reviewing these regulations, but despite widespread public support for reducing allowable transport times and making other urgently needed changes, it is not clear if or when the CFIA will move to improve the regulations.
Slaughter is another area of concern. Animals may be handled roughly as they are led to slaughter, causing significant stress. Some animals are improperly “stunned” (rendered unconscious) before they are killed, resulting in tremendous pain and suffering.
For both the transportation and slaughter of animals, Canada’s regulations are relatively weak, but just as serious is the lack of enforcement. News reports in recent years have revealed shocking deficiencies in enforcement of animal welfare and even food safety regulations. It is clear that CFIA funding for animal welfare enforcement must be substantially increased to ensure effective monitoring of federal regulations.
Farming, transport and slaughter practices in Canada have remained at the status quo for many years, falling further and further behind countries such as Australia, New Zealand and members of the European Union, where public demand has required progressive policies and legislation for farm animal welfare. For example, many countries and even some U.S. states have introduced legislation mandating the phase-out of battery cages, gestation stalls and veal crates.
Fortunately, the federal government is now funding the development of new Codes of Practice for the Care and Handling of Farm Animals. Coordinated by the National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC), these Codes outline acceptable standards of care for farm animals across Canada and serve as reference documents for provincial animal cruelty laws.
Through the Code development process, the CFHS is advocating science-based improvements to farm animal practices. Ongoing research is still needed to help refine husbandry systems and to provide farmers with practical and cost-effective solutions that meet animals’ physical and behavioural needs.
To learn more about how certain farm species are raised and what the welfare issues are for these animals, click on the links below. We thank our member society, the BC SPCA for allowing us to include these factsheets on our website.
To learn more about the transportation and slaughter of farm animals on Canada, please see the menu items to the right.