Maureen and I today sent some variant of the message below to every NDP and Green MLA in British Columbia. In the long term we have both believed for some years now that the best solution to these sorts of issues is for we human animals to give up eating non-human animals. But given that such an outcome will almost certainly not come in our lifetimes, it is surely imperative for vegans to join with concerned omnivores in trying to do everything we can to reduce the cruelty that has grown and grown over the past half century with the spread of "intensive" farming methods. If you agree, please join us in encouraging the new government to take meaningful action to improve the lives of animals, to improve human health, and to improve the environment too.Dear [MLA]
First of all, congratulations to you; it’s great to see a change of government!
We’re writing you about an issue that involves human health, the health of the environment, and the welfare of animals. When a Mercy for Animals video in 2014 (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/3-men-in-chilliwack-cattle-abuse-scandal-get-jail-time-1.4121997) exposed what was really going on behind the doors of BC’s largest dairy farm, the government responded (at the recommendation of the SPCA) by incorporating national guidelines (from the Dairy Code of Canada) as to what constitutes “generally accepted practice” into the BC Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.
This spring, a Mercy for Animals video (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/fraser-valley-chickens-spca-1.4157891) has exposed what is really going on in an important segment of BC’s broiler chicken industry—and again, it’s been suggested that the SPCA will work with the government towards incorporating national guidelines (this time regarding the treatment of broiler chickens) into the BC Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.
That’s not nearly enough.
Such a move might remove any possible doubt that pulling the legs off a live chicken is not generally accepted practice. But it would further entrench into our laws the systemic cruelty that currently is generally accepted practice.
Take the issue of overcrowding on chicken farms. The Code of Practice for the National Farm Animal Care Council has lovely words in it. Here is how the “Stocking Density” section opens: “Birds must have enough space to move freely…” It sounds pretty good. But what does it actually mean? You need to look at the numbers, not the words. The requirements are that “stocking densities for broiler chickens must not normally exceed 31 kg/m2 at any time.” That phrasing (“must not…at any time”) makes it sounds like quite a stiff restriction—until you do the math. The average broiler chicken is slaughtered at 2.4kg. live weight; translate that into inches and you realize that, in the view of the “Care Council,” each bird need have no more “space to move freely” than an 8.5 x 11 inch sheet of paper. Not quite that much actually—you need to shave an inch or so off the side. It works out to almost 17 birds per square metre. Imagine a five-pound bird living in less space than an 8.5x11 sheet of paper for her entire life.
Numbers matter too with the National Farm Animal Care Council. Much as they welcome among their members “any national or provincial association that accepts the use of animals in agriculture (e.g. Canadian Federation of Humane Societies),” a voting majority always rests with the vested interests of industrial farming, as represented by the “National Farmed Animal Associations.” Such a group cannot be expected to strike any sort of humane balance that gives adequate weight to the welfare of non-human animals—or to the importance of environmental concerns, or to the importance of human health.
The “Raising and Handling Broiler Chickens” guidelines of the BCSPCA (on which the BC Liberal government has largely relied for setting standards in such matters) are already virtually identical to those of the National Farm Animal Care Council: the BCSPCA’s recommended maximum density is 30 kg/m2; the BCSPCA also specifies “no more than 17 birds per square metre.” A density level of 30/m2 is not the world’s worst (the unspeakable cruelty allowed by some jurisdictions entails densities of 40 or more kg/m2), but it’s considerably worse than the “Freedom Food” recommendations of the RSPCA in Britain (no more than 12 birds per square metre), and it’s almost unimaginably worse than the sort of environment in which truly happy chickens can be raised; the Happy Chicken Coop website recommends a density of less than one bird per square metre—about 15 square feet (1.4 square metres) for each bird.
With a new government, British Columbia has an opportunity to become a world leader in limiting cruelty in animal farming, in limiting the damage that poorly regulated industrial farming does to the environment—and in limiting the damage that industrial farming does to human health.
More than that, we have an opportunity to provide an unanswerable response to Donald Trump’s demands over agricultural trade. If here in British Columbia we create a renewed agricultural sector based on taking animal welfare seriously and on mandating strict environmental and health standards for all agricultural products, we will prevent a flood of low-cost, low quality animal food products from swamping our markets—at the same time as we are improving our own lives and those of the animals on which we depend. If BC regulations mandate standards that other jurisdictions can’t meet, we will have an unprecedented opportunity to become exporters of products that are high value in every conceivable respect. Much as some businesses are sure to resist such a path, in the end, the long-term profitability of BC’s agricultural sector will be protected just as much as will be our animals, our environment, and our own health.*
We ask the new government to think of the birds in BC, the cows in BC, the other farm animals in British Columbia—but also of our environment, and of our own health. We ask the government to design a new system, from the ground up. British Columbians deserve nothing less.
Don LePan, CEO and Company Founder, Broadview Press Inc.
Prof. Maureen Okun, Chair, Liberal Studies Dept., Vancouver Island University
* There is one negative to seriously addressing animal welfare, human health, and the environment in this way, and it should be faced squarely: such an approach would inevitably mean some increases in the cost of food from animals. Such costs have, in real terms, decreased by more than half over the past half century as industrial farming methods have ratcheted down costs and ratcheted up cruelty; it’s not unreasonable to ask those with good incomes to pay a bit more now for a system that will improve the environment, their own health, and the lives of animals. But in the case of those with low incomes, it would surely be appropriate to provide some financial consideration to compensate for increased prices.