Farmers must be able to prove their livestock and poultry are raised humanely or governments will be pressured to do it for them, attendees at a recent farm animal conference were told.
Speakers from the National Farm Animal Care Coalition (NFACC), farm groups and Agriculture Canada said animal welfare codes of practice have to be scientifically credible and farmers must open their operations for inspection to prove they re complying.
But it s a reasonable price to pay, said conference speakers.
It s obvious to us that better animal care means better animal welfare and that s good for our business, said Robin Horel, president and CEO of the Canadian Poultry and Egg Processors Council.
The codes of practice, currently being developed with a target completion date of 2014, will also undergo formal assessments of how well they re working, said Horel, vice-chair of the coalition, which is composed of representatives from 29 farm, animal welfare, processor and veterinary groups, as well as government.
There s a clear public expectation that the government will take a leadership role on animal-care issues, added Susie Miller, director general of sector development at Agriculture Canada. The treatment of farm animals also has a growing place in international trade agreements.
The pork sector was one of the first to confront changing public attitudes about animal welfare, said Catherine Scovil, associate executive director of the Canadian Pork Council. In 2001, the European Union announced it would ban gestation stalls and require farmers to give their pigs more space, prompting the council to assemble a team of producers, researchers and government officials to work out an animal-care plan, she said.
We looked at how the proposed changes would affect the animals and from that we developed a care-assessment program that examined how pigs responded to different systems.
Failing to act, she said, would have resulted in processors imposing unrealistic animal welfare standards and increased government regulation, she said.
The Dairy Farmers of Canada have also been proactive, said Ron Maynard, the organization s vice-president and a farmer from Tyne Valley, P.E.I.
That effort, begun in 2009, has resulted in a 65-page booklet that farmers and their vets can use to review the operation, he said.
Vets like this booklet because it s a checklist, he said. It helps open up a discussion on why the farmer does what he does and enables the vet to check up on those actions.
For the codes to be credible, farmers have to be educated on how to use them and prove they re using them, he said.
If farmers grumble about the codes, tell them they re better off with them than something imposed by government, he added.
Development of the codes is a collaborative effort by farm groups, animal welfare organizations, the food industry and government, topped off with a peer-reviewed scientific assessment, said Jackie Wepruk, NFACC general manager. Draft codes will be open for a 60-day public comment period before a final assessment is done.
The system still has shortcomings, she added, including erratic and unpredictable research funding and no system for training animal welfare assessors.
There are other concerns. What happens if our
research doesn t mesh with the views of animal welfare groups? asked Jane Goodridge, adding that just getting rid of gestation stalls doesn t mean sows will have a quality of life acceptable to those groups.
Still, Canadian farmers are well ahead of their American counterparts when it comes to animal-care programs, says Jeff Rushen, a dairy cattle researcher at the Agriculture Canada research centre in Agassiz, B.C.
Programs in this country are comparable to what s going on in Europe and, unlike the U.S., farmers and animal-welfare groups north of the border are more willing to work together, Rushen said.
However, more research into the welfare requirements of farm animals is still needed, especially in the diverse beef cattle industry, he added.