Why the Federal Government Should Regulate Animal Farming

Many people are surprised to learn that government doesn’t comprehensively regulate animal welfare on farms. General animal welfare laws apply to farmed animals, as they do to all animals, but there are almost no species-specific regulated standards; no proactive, independent enforcement mechanisms; and consequently, no meaningful transparency in the sector.

Legal regulations are only triggered when the animals are removed from the farms to be transported—typically to auction or slaughter—and then at the slaughterhouse. Both transport and slaughter regulations are primarily designed to protect food safety; the animal welfare provisions are incidental. The only welfare standards that apply to animals on farms were created by the industry itself following a consensus-based process.

Photo credit: Jo-Anne McArthur / Animal Equity

Photo credit: Jo-Anne McArthur / Animal Equity

In recent years, the gaping flaws with this system have been put on full display through traditional and social media.

The Save Movement has galvanized citizens across Canada and around the world to stand vigil outside slaughterhouses and document the conditions. In many cases, the glimpses of business-as-usual are shocking: animals arriving with bloody injuries, gasping from the heat or blue from the cold, or so crowded they’re clambering on top of each other. Chickens are routinely documented with splayed legs and raw red skin, a sign that their genetic manipulation has caused them to spend most of their short lives sitting in waste, unable to properly stand up. Dairy cows arrive with massively engorged udders. Animals of all species arrive dead, having suffered to death in unknown ways.

Animal Justice, Direct Action Everywhere, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Mercy For Animals, and Last Chance for Animals have all released footage from other parts of the animal farming process. Too many animals in farms have been shown suffering with untreated injuries and being violently handled by farm personnel. Even the standard practices—the confinement, the crowding, the filth, the genetic manipulation, the barren environments, the lack of outdoor access—have generated public discussions, and in many cases, horror and outrage.

Many of the ways animals are treated are vestiges from another time, when we didn’t fully grasp the depth of the sentience of animals other than our primate selves, and when food was far less affordable than it is now. The rise of intensive farming was driven by a cultural zeitgeist that no longer exists.

Now, modern farming is out of touch with our values of compassion and justice for animals. What’s more, we’re eating far more animal foods than is healthy for us (roughly three times more than our food guide recommends) while at the same time appreciating like never before the health benefits of a predominantly plant-based diet. The relationship between how we eat and the environment is finally entering public discourse, too, while the existential threat of climate change becomes more dire with each new weather crisis.

Animal agriculture is not an industry well-suited to self-regulation. Animals are too vulnerable and the conditions in which they’re kept too alarming to allow animal farming to be conducted in secret. We shouldn’t have to rely on either industry marketing or non-profit-financed undercover investigations to even access accurate information about how animals live and die in our food system. 

The federal government has the constitutional authority to regulate animal farming, and it (rather than the provinces) should, to ensure national harmonization. Our welfare laws should be driven by science and accountable to the public, rather than driven by industry needs and consensus. Farms need to be monitored by government—subjected to regular, unannounced inspections, just like other regulated industries are. And more than ever, we need transparency so we can have meaningful conversations about whether our food system reflects our values.

Anna Pippus is Director of Farmed Animal Advocacy at Animal Justice. Her personal website is: www.annapippus.info.

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