The provincial government recently announced it will be adopting into law the codes of practice for the care and handling of farm animals, as outlined by the National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC).
The NFACC codes provide guidelines for animal handling, feed and water, housing and health, among other things. They will come into effect for poultry, fur and meat farmers across the province in June of this year.
While on the surface this may seem like a good thing for animals, the devil is in the details. NFACC is largely made of up industry representatives – it includes farmers, producers, transporters, veterinarians, retail and food service organizations, processors, governments and researchers, and animal welfare and enforcement agencies.
The Vancouver Humane Society (VHS) has several concerns about the adoption of the codes of practice into B.C. law. First, the adoption of the codes will not eliminate inherently inhumane practices currently applied to animals confined on farms. For instance, dairy cows will still spend most, if not all, of their lives indoors and be separated from their newborn calves; chickens will still be selectively bred for crippling fast growth; pigs will still be confined in crates. These are all still permissible under the codes of practice.
Second, how the codes are implemented into provincial law is of crucial importance. Animal Rights Lawyer, Anna Pippus, wrote about this in detail in 2016, after B.C. incorporated the codes of practice for dairy cattle into law. While the government celebrated it as a step forward in improving the welfare of dairy cows in B.C., Pippus noted that the dairy codes were incorporated as a defence rather than as a requirement. The BC Dairy Cattle Regulation recognizes the dairy code practices “as reasonable and generally accepted practices of dairy farming for the purposes of section 24.02 (c) of the Act”, instead of incorporating them as requirements that farmers must comply with. For comparison, Prince Edward Island’s animal welfare regulations reference the codes of practice as follows – “Every owner of a commercial animal shall comply with the codes of practice listed in Schedule B in respect of the commercial animal to which the code applies.”
This mean that in B.C., if a dairy farmer was accused of causing distress to an animal they could avoid charges by arguing that they were complying with the “reasonable and generally accepted practices of dairy farming.” Yet, the same regulation does not allow for farmers to be prosecuted if they aren’t complying with the codes, due to the fact that the dairy codes were not incorporated into law as a requirement that farmers must meet.
Fast forward to 2019, and we’re seeing this story repeat itself, with the remaining farm animal codes of practice being incorporated into B.C. law under the headline of improving animal welfare, but seemingly with the same problematic implications – as reasonable and generally acceptable livestock management practices, thus offering a defence for farmers, not animals.
Join us in telling the provincial Minister of Agriculture Lana Popham that incorporating the NFACC codes of practice for farm animals as a defence for farmers is a step in the wrong direction. If we are to truly advance the welfare of farmed animals, on-farm regulations should be based on the best available science (not the industry-led codes of practice) and government oversight in the form of pro-active, on-farm audits in order to ensure compliance. See below for key points to make in your email to the Minister.
Ultimately, the best thing that we as individual consumers can do to truly protect animals from cruelty is to not eat, wear or use them. Today there are more alternatives to animal products on the market than ever before, making it easier for people to choose products that align more closely with their values.
- While the adoption of the codes into B.C. law is being framed by the government as strengthening animal welfare, it actually does nothing to further animal welfare. The codes still permit inhumane practices including selective breeding for crippling fast growth, separation of mothers from young and intensive confinement.
- Implementing the codes of practice as “reasonable and generally acceptable livestock management practices” and not as requirements that farmers must meet protects farmers, not the animals.
- To truly advance farmed animal welfare, on-farm regulations should be based on the best available science, not industry-led codes of practice. The regulations should also be subject to government oversight through pro-active, on-farm inspections.