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Layer hen rules fuelling scrutiny

The National Farm Animal Care Council is the focus of a recent freedom of information request

The organization leading Canada’s development of humane livestock production is under the activist microscope.

The National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC) was recently the focus of a request under the freedom of information legislation. The group says it suspects the move is related to its connection to guidelines for layer hens.

The request relates to correspondence between former Conservative agriculture minister Gerry Ritz and his parliamentary secretary Pierre Lemieux.

NFACC chair Ryder Lee says the organization isn’t opposed to the release of the information, just as it co-operated when a European group called Econ Justice asked questions of three Canadian experts and sought access to confidential information about NFACC several years ago. The information didn’t generate a public controversy when Econ Justice issued a report on different national humane livestock practices.

“We believe the information should also be available to others who may wish to see it,” Lee said. “We felt that this was also an opportunity to clarify what NFACC is and does. We expect to be similarly transparent should we be made aware of further requests for information.”

The correspondence released by NFACC covers the organization’s 2005 request for funding and a letter from Ritz to then Liberal agriculture critic Frank Valorite in which he says NFACC “has established a model for addressing farmed animal welfare issues that is among the best in the world.”

NFACC represents a diversity of stakeholders, including farm groups, veterinarians, animal welfare groups, animal welfare researchers, governments, pro­cessors, food companies, and retailers. Collaboration amongst all stakeholders is critical for making real improvements in farm animal welfare.

Jackie Wepruk, NFACC’s general manager, says the organization is expecting more probes in the future, especially for layer hens, whose treatment has attracted a lot of attention from animal rights groups. A draft care code for layer hens is currently undergoing a public consultation and is available through the organization.

“While the letters don’t contain anything particularly newsworthy, the fact that a group is making an access to information request of NFACC is curious,” she said. “We anticipate more access to information requests and suspect the focus is the layer code. Given that the codes are developed through a robust, consensus-based process that brings together a diversity of expertise on animal welfare, including farmers, veterinarians, animal welfare groups, animal welfare researchers, and many others – we’re at a bit of a loss as to why someone would target NFACC.”

Still, she says, “We know more is coming related to our project for updating codes of practice.”

A new care code for hatching eggs, breeders, chickens and turkeys was released in June. The bison and veal cattle codes are also being updated and are expected to be ready for public comment later this year. A new rabbit code is also underway. Dairy, beef and pork have detailed codes.

“We are very fortunate in Canada that our society values collaborative approaches and that we have a history of animal welfare groups working with farmers on animal welfare standards,” Lee said. “We need to treasure and preserve this ability to work together given the pressures to apply one-dimensional solutions to complex issues.”

NFACC describes its role as being the forum “by which farm animal care standards are developed by bringing together diverse groups who need to be part of that decision-making process. The challenging nature of building consensus amongst diverse groups is what makes the process effective; providing an opportunity for improved decision-making and more robust results. Each code undergoes a public comment period to further support quality and success.”

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