Monday, June 8, 2009

Farm animal welfare not impressive

Unlike Canada, EU surges ahead on animal welfare reform

Jun 04, 2009 05:32 AM


Gordie&Maurice at Fauna

The recent uproar over Canada's seal hunt (and the Governor General's
appetite for seal heart) saw widespread charges of hypocrisy levelled
at the European Union over its ban on seal products. Critics
repeatedly point to Spanish bullfights or French foie gras production
as evidence of Europe's poor animal welfare record. While these
practices deserve criticism, the truth is that Europe is light years
ahead of Canada in animal welfare policy. In fact, among developed
countries, Canada is at the bottom of the league in its treatment of

It is a well-documented fact that the European Union has led the world
in reforming farm animal welfare, working to reduce the suffering of
hundreds of millions of animals. Some examples:

In 2007, the EU banned veal crates. The crates, so small that the
incarcerated calf cannot turn around for most of its 16-week life,
have been illegal in Britain since 1990.

Sow stalls, which keep pregnant pigs in such close confinement they
are virtually unable to move throughout their 16-week pregnancy, will
be banned in the EU in 2013. Tethers, used to further restrict sows'
movement, were prohibited in 2006.

The EU has agreed to ban battery cages for laying hens in 2012,
stopping a practice that denies the birds virtually all their natural
behaviours and keeps them so cramped they cannot even flap a wing.

All these systems and practices remain in use in Canada, where farm
animal welfare is governed by an entirely voluntary, unaudited set of
"recommended codes of practice."

Moreover, the EU is committed to further advancing animal welfare
reform. A protocol in the Treaty of Amsterdam legally recognizes
animals as sentient beings and requires member states to "pay full
regard to the welfare requirements of animals." Animal welfare
standards are being incorporated in EU trade agreements.

Farm animal welfare is also moving forward elsewhere. California
recently banned battery cages, sow stalls and veal crates. Colorado,
Florida, Oregon, Arizona and Maine have passed legislation banning
intensive confinement systems. Nothing comparable is happening in

A report by the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies (CFHS)
released earlier this year ranked Canada well behind Australia, New
Zealand, the United States and the EU in terms of farm animal welfare.
The report found that all these jurisdictions spent millions of
dollars on animal welfare, while Canada's latest five-year agriculture
plan virtually ignores the issue. The CFHS, a mainstream organization
representing most of Canada's SPCAs and humane societies, said
Canada's record was "shameful."

The same could be said of Canada's treatment of animals generally. In
2008, all Canadian animal welfare organizations loudly opposed Bill
S-203, the federal government's hopelessly weak animal cruelty
legislation. Despite this opposition, the bill passed, leaving
Canada's animals without the kind of legal protection they have in
other countries. The legislation's predicted ineffectiveness has been
borne out, with several horrific animal cruelty cases resulting in
little or no penalty for the perpetrators. This included the acquittal
of a man who killed five dogs with a hammer and the case of man who
threw a kitten off a balcony and then ran over it with his car ? the
charges were dropped. The CFHS says Michael Vick, the American
football player charged for involvement in a dogfighting ring, would
not have been convicted had his crimes taken place in Canada.

Less than one-quarter of one per cent of charges under the animal
cruelty provisions of the Criminal Code result in convictions. An
International Fund for Animal Welfare survey of animal cruelty laws in
14 countries ranked Canada last in a comparison of effective animal
protection legislation.

Despite all this, defenders of Canada's commercial seal hunt continue
to point at Europe's bullfighting and foie gras. Yet a closer look
reveals that there is considerable European opposition to both
practices. Fifteen European states, including Germany, Norway, Denmark
and Austria, have banned the production of foie gras. Bullfighting is
banned in a number of EU countries, including the United Kingdom, the
Netherlands, Germany and Italy. Polls show most Europeans abhor
bullfighting. Even within Spain there is opposition ? Barcelona banned
the practice in 2004. Foie gras and bullfighting are staunchly
defended by entrenched minority interests, but everyone can see which
way the wind is blowing.

To people who really care about animals, all the finger pointing and
accusations of hypocrisy criss-crossing the Atlantic are meaningless.
What matters is progress in ending animal suffering.

Sadly, in Canada, we are not making much.


1 comment:

Tanya said...

Hello all,

I'm sorry things seem to be lagging where you are. I live in the US, but very close to the Canadian border and want to alert you to a series of books our small publishing co. is coming out with in the fall and early winter of 2009--the very purpose is for people to use with children, in schools, organizations, or homes, to teach kindness to other living things (farm animals being a large focus of that). If you are interested in getting these books in the hands of children, check out our website at and contact me with any questions. Best, Tanya Sousa, Outreach, Radiant Hen Publishing (Vermont)