Farming isn’t what is used to be, as most everyone knows. But despite the kind of information widely available in books such as Fast Food Nation, there have been many advancements in farm animal welfare – many originating in B.C.
The foundation for change was in part built by the BC SPCA’s support of the University of B.C.’s Animal Welfare Program.
Launched in 1997, the program is a world leader in the growing field of animal-welfare science. Program Chair and Order of Canada winner, Dr. David Fraser, a respected scientist and leader in the field, has seen a change in attitudes toward animals over the past four decades, since he began his career as one of the world’s small cadre of pig-behaviour scientists.
“Although there are still relatively few places in the world that have people specializing or teaching in the area, the increase in activity has been remarkable,” Fraser says.
Animal-welfare research began in the United Kingdom in the 1970s, and a decade later the first research position in Canada was created. Since then, strides have been made, although the continued practises of dehorning beef cattle or castrating pigs without providing pain relief, for example, continue.
But increasingly, farmers are beginning to implement new ways of managing farm animals, in response to scientific evidence produced by Dr. Fraser and his students, many of whom hail from international locations.
“There have been many international developments in welfare standards for farm animals, and increasingly more acceptance of animal welfare science by veterinarians, farmers and other people who keep animals. There is also enormous demand for information on animal welfare.”
Fraser says one of the most surprising developments is “the level of attention to animal welfare by international and intergovernmental agencies such as the United Nations” as well as farmers and the corporate world viewing good animal welfare as “fundamental to good business.”
What are the implications for farm animals? New farm-animal codes of practice developed by the National Farm Animal Care Council, for example, have the potential to protect and enhance the lives of farm animals. The BC SPCA and its national partner, the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, play a prominent role in the process with expert representatives appointed to every Code committee.
Geoff Urton, BC SPCA animal welfare manager, says “There is an unprecedented amount of policy now being developed. What this means in practical terms for the lives of farm animals is that, for example, because studies show that dehorning a dairy calf causes pain, the Dairy Code committee was able to issue a new requirement for farmers to use pain control during this procedure.”
Five new codes will eventually be in place for horses, pigs, beef cattle and farmed mink and fox. New codes are being developed for sheep, turkeys and meat chickens.
“Once published, these codes will influence the lives of hundreds of millions of Canadian farm animals raised annually,” Urton says. Funded by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the codes set out national requirements for animal care and serve as reference documents for the enforcement of animal cruelty law.
“The Five Freedoms we promote and uphold apply to farm animals as well as companion animals. Just because one animal is raised for food but another is raised to be a companion to a human being, does not, from our point of view, take away from the fact that we have a moral obligation to treat the farm animal humanely. They are both sentient beings, as the research proves, with the ability to experience emotions and particular needs important to their quality of life. It’s our responsibility to provide them with a good life,” Urton says.
For more information about farm animal welfare, visit spca.bc.ca.
Lauryn Hayden is communications officer for the BC SPCA. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.