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The CFIA Wants to Make It Easier to Mislead Consumers About Meat, Dairy, and Eggs

Animal Justice February 24, 2017

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is overhauling food labelling regulations, which include animal welfare claims on meat, dairy, and egg packaging like “free range” and “grass fed.” But instead of cracking down on the epidemic of false animal welfare claims, the government plans to weaken regulations and introduce new loopholes.

The CFIA wants to make animal welfare and related “consumer values” claims its lowest enforcement priority. In other words, the agency won’t proactively define and regulate claims about how farmed animals are treated, and may not even bother investigating companies for blatantly false animal welfare claims.

Instead, the CFIA wants to make it consumers’ responsibility to contact companies themselves to find out what their animal welfare claims mean. According to the CFIA, industry has a “legal and ethical responsibility” to ensure labelling claims are not misleading. But consumers have no way of verifying information provided by companies, which stand to benefit financially from misleading consumers.

If consumers are concerned about false labelling claims made by companies, the CFIA is proposing that consumers make their complaints directly to the companies themselves. In other words, if a company’s packaging uses misleading imagery or language, consumers have to first complain to the company. The CFIA will only pay attention to a consumer complaint if a company has provided an insufficient response, and will only investigate once multiple complaints are received.

cfia labelling

The CFIA wants to make it consumers’ responsibility to monitor and verify animal welfare claims.

Animal farming is notoriously secretive. It takes place on private property in windowless facilities, with virtually no government oversight. Consumers have no ability to monitor these industries ourselves, which is why we expect our government to step in and protect consumers from being duped by false claims.

Labelling is a crucial component of informed consumer choices. Consumers should be able to rely on the words and images used on labels being accurate and truthful. And in fact, polling shows 82 percent of consumers want clearer animal welfare labelling.

Previous work by Animal Justice has highlighted an epidemic of false animal welfare claims, misinformed consumers, and a nonexistent government response. We’ve filed consumer protection complaints against slaughterhouse Maple Lodge Farms for claiming to treat chickens humanely even while on probation for illegal animal cruelty; against supermarket chain Safeway for marketing chicken meat as “certified humane,” even though birds are crowded in dark barns and deprived of anything that makes life worth living; and against the Dairy Farmers of Canada for running deceptive dairy ads disguised as public health announcements.

Meanwhile, the European Union understands the importance of addressing animal welfare labelling, recognizing that if consumers lack information, “there is very little motivation for more producers to improve animal welfare and market their products accordingly.”

It’s not too late to tell the CFIA to monitor animal welfare labelling claims! Here’s what to do: Simply go to their online survey before March 15. Skip ahead to “Stream 2,” which is 88% of the way through the survey.

For Question 2, select “no.”

For Question 2i), explain that animal farming lacks transparency and government must ensure consumers are able to make informed choices.

For Question 2ii), explain that welfare claims must be regulated, and they must be the responsibility of government (not industry and consumers).

If you’re pressed for time, you could also simply fill in our petition here.

Thank you for taking action for animals.

Image: Egg-laying hens inside a “cage-free” farm, courtesy Direct Action Everywhere.

Animal Justice

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Access to Information Documents Reveal Sobering Government Collusion with Big Ag

Animal Justice February 15, 2017

Access to information documents obtained by the Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals and reviewed by Animal Justice reveal that new proposed animal transport regulations were drafted in collusion with the animal agriculture industry itself.

In correspondence to the public, Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay states that the proposed regulations establish “science-based requirements.”

Internal Government Doc From Access to Information Request

Internal Government Doc From Access to Information Request

In reality, far from reflecting the latest science, the proposed regulations virtually ignore a vast body of science relating to transport times without food, water or rest; exposure to extreme temperatures and weather; and severe overcrowding aboard jerkily moving vehicles.

Instead, the access to information (ATI) documents reveal that the government’s primary concern was appeasing the industry by ensuring they would be required to change very little, if anything.

For example, spent hens—the young but fragile chickens “used up” by the egg industry—are so debilitated by the time they’re sent to slaughter that the brutal transport conditions can kill them. In fact, the ATI docs show that in 2014, loads of spent hens were arriving dead at slaughterhouses at rates of up to 51.59 percent. This wasn’t an anomaly: 17.4 percent of shipments had dead on arrival rates higher than 4 percent, the rate at which regulators step in to investigate, assuming negligence. These suffering-to-death rates are a direct result of transport conditions.

Yet, the ATI docs reveal that instead of mandating a 12-hour limitation on transporting these vulnerable birds without so much as a sip of water, the government caved to industry pressure in mandating a 24-hour limit—a timeframe that is guaranteed to sentence millions of animals to extreme suffering and even death.

For example, in the ATI docs, the government admits: “While a 12 hour… time is supported by science… the initial proposed maximum time of 12 hours has been significantly increased to 24 hours;” “As a result of industry feedback, CFIA adjusted its original proposal from 12 hours to 24 hours without [food, water or rest];”  and “CFIA is now proposing 24 hours as a result of industry concerns.”

Internal Government Doc From Access to Information Request. The science supports not exceeding transport times in the column on the right.

Internal Government Doc From Access to Information Request. The science supports not exceeding transport times in the column on the right. As such, the proposed regulations can’t accurately be called “science-based.”

Internal Government Doc From Access to Information Request. Industry concerns dictated transport times.

Internal Government Doc From Access to Information Request. Industry concerns dictated transport times.

After making adjustments to appease industry, the government reported internally that these transport time limits “could be met by industry with minor management changes and limited additional costs.”

In one document, the government assured industry reps that on-farm feed and water withdrawal times are “not strictly enforced” (this is the period of time animals are deprived of food and water before transport. These withdrawal times will be included in the new transport time limitations).

Talking points prepared for the government to communicate with industry send subtle clues that almost no changes will be required of them: “practices [are] already used by most industry stakeholders;” the proposed regulations “balance the needs of animals during transport [with] the realities of transporting animals in Canada;” and amendments are based on “current industry practices.”

Any discussion of weather exposure was also strikingly absent. Evidently, the government didn’t even consider meaningfully regulating this primary source of suffering and agonizing death.

Ultimately, the lives of animals used for food are characterized by misery and deprivation from birth to death. So why the focus on transport?

One document conceded that transport is a “high priority issue” for the government, not because of the inherent animal welfare concerns, but because “transport is highly visible to the public. While other points in a food animal’s life are relatively unknown to the public ie on farm and at slaughter; transport remains the one aspect that is accessible to the public.” (Errors in original.)

In other words, the government needs to deal with transport to maintain the illusion of animal welfare in our animal agriculture system.

Image: Severely crowded young chickens being transported into an egg-laying barn; Alberta 2013. Via Mercy For Animals.

Animal Justice

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Public Comments Needed on Draft Code of Practice for Chickens Used for Eggs

Animal Justice August 11, 2016

By Anna Pippus, J.D., director of farmed animal advocacy for Animal Justice

Cover photo by Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals.

The National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC) has released its draft code of practice for the care and handling of chickens used by the egg industry. Our government doesn’t regulate animal agriculture, choosing instead to fund the industry’s creation of its own codes of practice. Although these codes of practice aren’t enforced, they are the closest thing to we have to on-farm rules, and have actual and potential legal significance.

NFACC is currently accepting comments from the public on its draft code of practice for egg-laying hens before it releases the final version later this year. We encourage everyone to take a moment to provide feedback; even if our feedback isn’t heeded, it’s important to make it evident that the public is paying attention and is concerned by rampant cruelty in the industry (which occurs even when best practices are followed). Comments are due August 29th. We have identified some specific concerns with the draft code below.

It’s worth pointing out that, from the beginning, the code of practice process is tainted by conflicts of interest and a lack of credibility; the codes are created by industry, for industry. For example, the “Scientific Committee”—which is supposed to provide an unbiased review of the scientific literature—contained Bernadette Cox, who is not a scientist, from the Egg Farmers of Canada. On her LinkedIn profile she writes that she edited the scientific review prior to its public release. The token veterinarian on the code development committee, Mike Petrik, has defended poultry industry cruelty that eventually resulted in an animal cruelty conviction. Other members on the committee are similarly closely tied with or funded by the industry. As such, both the scientific review and the draft code of practice should be viewed with some degree of skepticism.

Likely the largest concern shared by many animal advocates is that the draft code doesn’t eliminate cages. Instead, it suggests that cages be made larger and equipped with some rudimentary furnishings, like perches, to meet some of the basic hens’ biological needs. Vancouver Humane Society has a good summary of the concerns with so-called furnished cages.

Furnished cages. Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

In furnished cages, hens still spend their entire lives crowded, bored, stressed, and uncomfortable. Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

However, it’s important to be aware that none of the proposed systems are without significant welfare concerns; cage-fee hens are crowded, kept in unnaturally large groups leading to stress and aggression, at a greater risk for disease, exposed to poor air quality, and still denied most things—like going outside—that make life enjoyable.

Some specific concerns with the draft code of practice:

The draft code doesn’t require birds have safe and regular access to pasture and/or the outdoors.

The draft code allows birds to live on wire flooring instead of litter. If producers voluntarily use litter, the draft code doesn’t require soiled litter to be replaced except between flocks (longer than a year!)

Wire flooring is uncomfortable and causes painful injuries and deformities. Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

Wire flooring is uncomfortable and causes painful injuries and deformities. Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

The space allowed for each bird is miniscule. They will be so crowded that they will barely be able to express natural behaviours like stretching their wings. Worse, the space allocated is considered a recommendation, rather than a requirement—meaning birds can be even more crowded.

Chickens would naturally live in small social groupings with a defined pecking order that maintains peace and calm. The draft code doesn’t cap flock sizes; tens of thousands of birds may live together. As with other animals, like cats and even humans, chickens find large crowds chaotic and stressful.

In a natural setting, hens would peep to their chicks before they’re hatched, communicating and establishing a bond. After hatching, chicks would stay close to their mothers, finding comfort and protection, and learning skills. The draft code is entirely silent on natural social groupings, assuming and permitting that chicks will be hatched in hatcheries where they will never meet their mothers, find comfort, or learn important life skills.

The draft code doesn’t require natural lighting or sufficient periods of dark for rest.

Dust-bathing is how chickens clean their feathers (the dust clings to oil and is shaken off), which not only keeps them clean and satisfies their strong biological urge to dust-bathe, but also maintains feather insulation and eliminates parasites. Despite its importance, the draft code doesn’t require it for all birds, saying it is “difficult to accommodate in some housing systems.”

Although hens prefer small, private nests, the draft code allows large communal nests.

Like us, chickens enjoy a varied diet and are biologically compelled to seek this out. The draft code doesn’t require access to a varied or even a palatable diet.

The draft code permits chickens having their beaks cut off without painkillers, which can lead to both acute and chronic pain.

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Hens use their beaks for eating, foraging, preening, and more. Amputating their beaks causes numerous problems. Photo: Temara Brown

The draft code permits workers to dangle chickens upside down—despite that this is a well-documented stressor—instead of carrying them upright. In fact, that draft code even acknowledges that chickens find being upside down stressful, yet doesn’t prohibit it. The draft code also doesn’t require workers to set hens down on their feet.

Animal Justice

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