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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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Why the Supreme Court Bestiality Decision Is Actually Good For Animal Law

Animal Justice June 15, 2016

By Camille Labchuk, Executive Director of Animal Justice. 

The Supreme Court of Canada sent shock waves around the world last week when it ruled in the case of R. v. D.L.W. that most forms of bestiality are legal in Canada. According to the judges, sexually abusing animals is only a crime if the abuse involves intercourse.

Many people were deeply disappointed by the outcome. Animal Justice intervened in the disturbing court case last November to speak up for animals and make sure the Court heard why protecting them matters. Like you, we wish the Court had ruled that all sexual touching of animals must be illegal.

But apart from the outcome, nearly everything else about the D.L.W. case is good news. Many parts of the decision are extremely positive for animals and the field of animal law, and we know that Animal Justice made a huge difference by intervening. Let’s break down the decision and take a closer look.

First, it was a split decision. Although six judges interpreted bestiality narrowly, we managed to convince Justice Rosalie Abella that bestiality should include all sexual acts with animals. Justice Abella wrote a strong dissent that adopted most of Animal Justice’s arguments, stating that it was obvious that the law should make all forms of bestiality illegal. Justice Abella wrote that she has a “great deal of difficulty accepting that in its modernizing amendments to the Criminal Code, Parliament forgot to bring the offence out of the Middle Ages…”.

Second, the majority and the dissent both mentioned that protecting vulnerable animals is important. This is the first time ever that the country’s top court has acknowledged society’s long-standing and growing concern with the welfare of animals. It’s an incredible development for the field animal law. Our legal system is built on precedent, and now we have a powerful precedent from the Supreme Court that animal lawyers will be able rely on in future cases.

This recognition that animals matter is thanks to Animal Justice’s intervention. The other parties in the case (the Crown and the accused) wouldn’t even agree that the offence of bestiality is about protecting animals. In their view, the offence was exclusively about protecting human morality, and had nothing to do with protecting vulnerable animals from serious abuse to which they cannot consent. Without Animal Justice in the courtroom to point out that animals matter, the decision may have been very different.

By being in the courtroom, Animal Justice made a difference in the case. Animal Justice was mentioned by name in both the majority opinion and the dissent. Interveners don’t often get this type of recognition, so we know that the judges appreciated our arguments and took seriously what we had to say about animals.

Finally, it’s important to note that the majority decision doesn’t means the Court thinks animals are unimportant. It simply means that the judges felt they had to interpret a criminal offence narrowly, stating “it is for Parliament and not the courts to expand the scope of criminal liability for this ancient offence.”

The Court gave clear direction that Parliament can act, and that’s exactly what we are asking for. We’re urging the government to support Bill C-246, MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith’s private member’s bill that would close the bestiality loophole and update other animal protection laws.

Ultimately, Animal Justice accomplished a lot by intervening in the case. Although the result was not what we had hoped for, we know this case will help animal lawyers make more progress in the future.

For a more detailed analysis, check out my co-counsel Peter Sankoff’s video blog on the case.

Animal Justice

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Animal Rights: Personhood Does Not Have To Be The Opposite Of Property

Animal Justice April 14, 2015


Written by Anna Pippus, JD, Director of Farmed Animal Advocacy

Animals’ status as property is a central topic of discussion and criticism in animal rights, and correctly so. The authority we have granted our own species to own animals of other species is based on self-interested domination rather than a principled ethic of justice, and it should be critically re-evaluated.

However, given how engrained species exploitation is in the economic machinery of global society, species equality will not be achieved in the near future. In the meantime—that is, until all animals are no longer property and instead have the right to be free—should we concede that animals cannot be persons with any legal rights?

An overwhelming majority of animal advocates take the position that as long as animals are property, they cannot have legal personhood or legal rights. I argue that not only is this not the case, but taking this position actively harms animals.

First, it is worth considering what a legal right is. A legal right is simply a legal entitlement to do, have, or be free from something. Considering the law in most developed countries prohibits, for example, causing unnecessary suffering to animals—in effect, if not verbatim—do they then have legal rights? After all, they have the legal right to be free from unnecessary suffering,[1] however vacuously this may be defined and however anemically it may be enforced.

In my view, animals do not currently have rights—but not because they are property. They don’t have legal rights because they have no means to enforce the rights to which they are ostensibly entitled. In other words, the common prohibition against unnecessary suffering cannot properly be considered a right to be free from suffering because nowhere in the world do animals have access to courts to enforce this right.

This principle is expressed with the legal maxim ubi jus ibi remedium—that is, for every wrong, the law provides a remedy. This principle has been recognized by the highest courts in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada. For example, the Supreme Court of Canada has stated that “a right, no matter how expansive in theory, is only as meaningful as the remedy provided for its breach.”

Applying this to animals, current animal welfare laws do not qualify as animal rights because animals do not have a remedy available to them. If they are abused, the law might be enforced to protect them—but it might not, and animals (through advocates) do not have legal recourse to demand a remedy.

But a remedy could be made available to animals. With legal standing, animals could have their interests represented in court and their rights adjudicated. Corporations already have legal standing; there is no reason animals shouldn’t have legal standing too. After all, we designed the legal system, and we can—and do—adapt it in novel and creative ways as needs arise.

This idea is not so far from becoming a reality. A few years ago, animal advocates including PETA and Zoocheck sought a judicial declaration that the City of Edmonton was in violation of provincial animal welfare laws for keeping a lone elephant in a municipal zoo in abominable conditions. Although the case was dismissed before the merits were heard, the top Chief Justice of the Alberta Court of Appeal wrote a lengthy, impassioned dissent, observing that “it arguably remains an open question whether the common law has now evolved to the point where, depending on the circumstances, an animal might be able to sue through its litigation representatives to protect itself.”

In other words, a top judge in a top Canadian court has acknowledged that animals may achieve legal standing through the common law—and not in the distant future, but now.

What does this mean for animals? For starters, although animals will continue to be exploited for profit, it gives animal advocates a tool for judicially abolishing the worst practices. For instance, with legal standing, advocates could go to court to argue that confining hens in battery cages, genetically breeding meat chickens to grow so quickly that their health is inherently severely compromised, castrating piglets without painkillers, or hot-iron branding cattle constitute unnecessary suffering and therefore run afoul of animal welfare laws.

In many provinces, including British Columbia and Ontario, provincial welfare laws exempt “reasonable and generally accepted practices” of animal management. These terms are important and cannot be glossed over. Is it “reasonable” to deprive an egg-laying hen of space to move, clean air, sunlight, prompt veterinary attention, and solid flooring for her entire miserable, fear-filled, stressful life? Many people would say no. In fact, many people would consider all of the horrifying practices to which farmed animals are routinely subjected to be extremely unreasonable.

As for general acceptance, we have to ask: generally accepted by whom? We should not concede that only profit-driven industrial agriculturalists can determine what qualifies as general acceptance, thus effectively conceding them law-making and self-policing power. Whether this is the ultimate judicial interpretation applied to this term, as advocates we should be advancing the interests of animals, and demanding a rational, fair, and policy-driven judicial interpretation of this term which does not allow those who profit by cutting corners on animal welfare to determine animal welfare standards.

Noble efforts to abolish the property status of animals and have them declared persons have been underway in courts around the world. These efforts focus on higher primates, based on arguments that these animals are so like us that depriving them of freedom and personhood is indefensible. Although the success of these efforts will be important for shattering the species barrier of legal personhood, they do not offer much immediate hope to the vast majority of animals currently suffering at human hands: most notably, the chickens, cows and pigs who are much less like us than are chimpanzees, but whose capacity to experience fear and pain is like our own.

When we, as animal advocates, say that animals cannot have rights or personhood as long as they are property, we are limiting ourselves, and we are selling animals short. We are allowing animal-use industries to abuse animals unchecked in the name of profit until the distant day arrives that all animals cease to be property and gain freedom.

But legal personhood does not require this of us. We can and should take the position that the legal system should recognize animals as legal persons—that is, as having legal standing to enforce their legal rights—right now, independent of their status as property being eradicated. This would give us another tool at our disposal to protect animals, and to chip away at the paradigm that allows virtually unchecked, systemic abuse of animals in the name of profit.

Animals are too vulnerable, their suffering too severe, and the quantities in which we harm them too great for us to hold any position that limits our ability to effectively advance their interests. They need legal standing, and they need it even while they are still property. They need it now.


[1] In Canada, many pieces of federal and provincial legislation use various language to prohibit causing unnecessary suffering to animals in various ways. The common theme is that the legislation implicitly recognizes a human privilege to use animals, thereby causing them some suffering that is considered necessary, but it also attempts to (vaguely) place limits on this privilege.

This blog and the contents herein are for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. Readers are advised to seek legal counsel prior to acting on any matters discussed herein. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

Image: Egg-laying hens living in filthy, cramped cages in Alberta, 2013. Courtesy Mercy For Animals.


 

Animal Justice

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