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Polls And Animal Welfare

As you are reading this article, we are going through a federal election. As with any election, a multitude of polls are being published that declare this or that federal party is going to win either a majority government or a minority government.

While the political polls are considered useful by some, nothing but entertainment by others and a downright waste of time by others, I believe that polling does provide some measurement of what society is thinking about.

Polls put the power of statistics at play. A relatively small sampling of the public gives a collective voice to citizens to address political parties, governments or organizations. Sometimes organizations simply hire “lobbyists” to voice their positions to government. This, of course comes at some expense while public opinion polls make it possible for a cross-section of society to be heard.

POWER OF STATISTICS

In December of last year, the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) released poll results from a survey of 1,007 Canadians on the humane treatment of animals.

People like me, who deal with animals by the thousands and the nasty people who do inhumane things to them, are not surprised by the results of the survey. By and large Canadians are a kind and humane people. Ninety-three per cent would support laws that ensure farm animals have the ability to lie down, turn around, stretch their limbs and/or spread their wings.

Pigs, confined to sow crates are denied the ability to turn around. It is hard to imagine a barn in which up to 3,000 pigs are confined in such a manner. Eighty-five per cent feel that new offences should be implemented making it illegal to poison, injure or kill a police dog or horse. Our province has already proceeded down this path with the passage of The Service Animals Protection Act. As well, 84 per cent of “Canadians think it’s important they be able to buy cage-free meat and eggs at their local grocery store or supermarket.

Such views are consistent with a survey of Manitobans that the Winnipeg Humane Society conducted in 2009. We were seeking the opinions of Manitobans on their attitudes towards penned animals.

PUBLIC VIEWS

Our question read, “Some people feel that keeping farm animals like chickens or pigs in small spaces that prevent them from turning around or extending their wings or limbs is a cruel practice that should be stopped. Other people feel that penning animals in these small spaces is acceptable because it allows farmers to sell their food products to consumers at affordable prices. Which of these two views is closer to your own?”

A majority of Manitobans (68 per cent) feel this practice should be stopped. The WHS shared this information with the provincial government, the Manitoba Pork Council and the Egg Farmers of Manitoba.

For over a decade the WHS has advocated against the use of sow crates and suggested that the farmers move to an open-housing system.

We were pleasantly surprised when we received a document from the Manitoba Pork Council, “Embracing a Sustainable Future: Acting Locally, Thinking Globally” that discusses a move to open housing by pork farmers.

Commitment #37 states: “Manitoba Pork commits to encouraging producers to phase out by 2025, the style of dry sow stalls currently used. New forms of housing must be practical and provide protection to animals and humans alike.”

While some in the animal advocacy movement will argue that the date is too far in the future and that “encouraging producers to phase out” crates is weak language, the WHS takes the view that the pork farmers of Manitoba are recognizing they need to move to open-housing systems.

Commitment #40 states that: “Manitoba Pork commits to encouraging pig producers to continue to meet the Five Freedoms for animal well-being.” The Five Freedoms were first expressed in a 1960s’ British publication,The Brambell Report,on animal welfare. Humane societies across North America adhere to the Five Freedoms. They are: Freedomfromhunger

andthirst;

Freedomfromdiscomfort; Freedomfrompain,injury

anddisease;

Freedomtoexpressnormal

behaviour;and Freedomfromfearanddistress.

A pig in a crate is unable to turn around and that ability, we argue, falls entirely within the “normal behaviour” category of the Five Freedoms.

Again, the WHS is of the view that the Manitoba Pork Council recognizes the validity of the Five Freedoms and is willing to work towards these goals. The use of the word encouraging will again be considered as a weak position by some, but it also must be recognized that the Manitoba Pork Council is demonstrating a willingness to acknowledge the Five Freedoms.

No less an expert than Dr. Temple Grandin of Colorado State University has stated in her wonderful book,Animals Make Us Humanthat, “Sows in stalls don’t have their social needs met … The industry needs to get rid of sow stalls.”

WATERSHED MOMENT

So now, both the public opinion polls and the pork council have arrived at a watershed moment. Both the public and the pork farmers are committed to the concept of pigs being group housed.

Now the question must be, “What is the best way to go about this?” The WHS stated well over a year ago at a University of Manitoba seminar on animal ethics that we would support the concept of provincial government funding going to the pig farmers to help them convert to group housing. Now is the time for all of us to help the farmers, because helping the farmers helps the pigs be pigs.

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