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Help Protect Calves From Veal Industry Cruelty

Animal Justice February 6, 2017

How the Proposed Veal Code of Practice Fails Calves and What You Can Do to Help

Calves used by the Canadian veal industry endure tremendous suffering. These babies are stolen away from their mothers shortly after birth, then isolated in tiny crates with hard, barren floors—denying them every natural instinct and urge.

The National Farm Animal Care Council—the industry group that creates guidelines for the treatment of animals in Canada—has released a new draft code of practice for veal calves, and it is open for public comment.

Now is the time to speak up for calves. Please take a moment to send in your comments before the February 14 deadline!

ACT NOW

The draft guidelines do not require farmers to follow many animal management practices that the latest welfare science indicates are the bare minimum to reduce suffering. Indeed, the science summarized by the Council’s own scientific advisory committee is too often unheeded in the draft guidelines, indefensibly sacrificing animal welfare for farmer convenience.

Some specific shortcomings with the draft guidelines include:

The draft guidelines permit calves to be isolated, even though the evidence (and common sense) is clear that calves crave social contact. Like all newborn babies, veal calves are biologically motivated to seek warmth, comfort, and social interaction. Taking calves from their mothers and isolating them from each other is cruel.

The draft code of practice permits farmers to keep calves on hard, barren floors. In addition to being uncomfortable, the scientific report indicates that hard flooring and/or a lack of bedding is also associated with a wide range of injuries and health problems.

Bursitis is painful joint inflammation, commonly caused by hard flooring in veal calf facilities. Despite it being a common, painful, and preventable condition, the draft guidelines only require addressing environmental issues if three consecutive groups of calves exceed a 15 percent rate of bursitis.

The scientific report indicates that if calves were left with their mothers, they would nurse ten times each day in the first week of life. The frequency would gradually decrease until natural weaning around nine months. The scientific advisory committee identified numerous serious health problems with a low frequency of daily feedings, yet the draft guidelines require only two feedings per day—a frequency that research has clearly associated with suffering.

Like all newborn babies, calves are born with a physical and psychological need to suckle. The scientific advisory committee identified numerous benefits associated with suckling on teats vs drinking milk from buckets, observing that “calves are highly motivated to suck.” Despite this, the draft guidelines don’t require the use of teats, suggesting only that farmers “consider” using teats.

The scientific advisory committee found that calves with average blood haemoglobin of ? 4.8 mmol/L (7.7 g/dL) were anemic, negatively affecting their appetite, growth, energy, and immunity. However, the draft guidelines only require iron supplementation when calves are “found to have” blood haemoglobin below 4.5 mmol/L (7.2 g/dL)—at which point the calves would be severely anemic. Moreover, farmers aren’t even required to actually monitor blood haemoglobin!

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As legal experts in animal law, we at Animal Justice make it our mission to identify and explain the many ways our animal welfare laws fail animals. With your help as concerned and engaged citizens, we can push to improve laws and policies.

However, consumers should remember that suffering is inherent in veal farming. Calves are literally waste products of the dairy industry, as cows must be impregnated to produce milk. These babies have been taken from their mothers within hours of birth, causing immense distress to both mother and baby. As together we move the ball forward on legal protections for animals, we consumers always have the power to vote with our wallets by boycotting industries that harm animals.

Photo by Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

Animal Justice

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Speak Up For Chickens and Turkeys During the Poultry Code of Practice Comment Period

Animal Justice October 11, 2015

This month, the Canadian agriculture industry released a draft of its revised code of practice for chickens and turkeys. The public is invited to comment on this draft for consideration before the final is published next year.

This code of practice matters. Chickens are by far the largest population of animals under human care—we killed more than 640 million of them in 2014—and their degree of suffering is arguably the worst of any factory farmed animal.

Yet, the government does not regulate on-farm conditions in Canada, choosing instead to fund and endorse the codes of practice. These codes of practice are the closest to on-farm regulations that we have.

The draft code of practice is badly deficient. It leaves out or scarcely addresses the most important animal welfare concerns. The interests, profits, and convenience of producers have evidently been the paramount concern.

Most alarmingly, the draft code totally fails to address genetic selection for rapid growth, which renders animals in systemic, chronic pain. The rapid growth of broiler chickens leads to lameness, heart failure, and compromised immunity. If you can take the time to leave just one comment, please comment on the need for runaway genetic selection to be curtailed.

Chickens and turkeys need our voices. Please participate in the public comment period before it closes. Below are some broad areas of concern worth mentioning, broken down by section to make commenting easier, although there are many sections to critique.

You can also view our full letter to the code development committee, which contains much more detail and citations, here.

“2.5 Physical Alterations and Bird Identification”

The draft code permits cutting off beaks, toes, spurs, combs, and snoods. Such amputations should be banned in favour of better management practices, including environmental enrichments, appropriate stocking density, and suitable and sufficient food. If amputations are permitted, painkillers should be required, and so should the use of the best available technology.

“3.4 Lighting”

Standard practice is to raise chickens with many hours of artificial light each day to keep the animals awake and eating, but keep the light intensity dim to prevent the animals from exerting too much energy. This near-constant dim lighting is associated with numerous welfare problems.

The draft code requires only four hours of dark per day. This is insufficient. In the European Union, at least six hours is required by law, although this too would be insufficient. As noted by NFACC’s Scientific Committee, mortality increases with each hour of light above 12 hours. Additionally, the lighting intensity required by the draft code is far too low; that is, the lights would be too dim.

“3.5 Stocking Densities”

The draft code allows chickens to be crowded to a density of up to 38 kg/m2 , which—assuming an average broiler size of approximately 2 kg—amounts to approximately 19 birds per square metre. The European Commission’s respected Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare (SCAHAW) recommends stocking densities of 25 kg/m2 or lower.

“4.2 Controlled Feeding and Watering for Broiler Breeders”

In order to prevent them from dropping dead, broiler chickens reared to reproductive age must be kept in a state of near-starvation. Feed restriction in broiler breeders causes stress, frustration, boredom, and chronic hunger.

The draft code acknowledges that “restricted feeding programs result in chronic hunger,” but rather than addressing this serious issue, it chalks up the “negative impact on bird welfare” as “unavoidable.”

This is unacceptable. It should be required, and it should be considered urgent, that at bare minimum birds are genetically capable of living to reproductive age without needing to be subjected to “extreme food restriction.”

“5.2 Disease Prevention”

The draft code does not require facilities to be cleaned between flocks. Leaving the excrement-covered litter in facilities is, unsurprisingly, associated with poor air quality. Specifically, air contains more dust, bacteria, fungal spores, and ammonia. Dirty litter and air causes eye, lung, and skin problems.

For reasons of animal welfare and food safety, producers should be required to clean out dirty facilities between flocks.

“7.3. Catching, Loading, and Unloading Procedures”

When chickens and turkeys reach slaughter weight, they are rounded up and packed into crates by unskilled workers. Workers carry three or four animals per hand, upside down, and throw them into transport crates. Rough handling is the norm. The confused, terrified birds experience extreme stress, and are frequently physically harmed with bruises, broken bones, dislocated joints, and other injuries.

In light of the dire welfare consequences associated with the manual catching techniques that are common practice in Canada, it is insufficient that the draft code essentially only requires “minimizing stress and injury” during catching. Specific guidelines and a structure that does not incentivize brutal handling habits should be set out and deemed required.

“Concluding Comments”

The draft code doesn’t address genetic selection for rapid growth. This is a paramount welfare concern. Not only does it lead to lameness, heart failure and compromised immunity, but breeding birds must necessarily be starved to stay alive.

Cages are not used to house broiler chickens in Canada because cages have historically caused breast blisters, which consumers find unattractive. However, cages are used in other parts of the world where it is more economically feasible for a variety of reasons, including changing cage technology. Canadian producers should be prohibited from adopting cage systems for broiler chickens.

So-called “required” practices are vague, vesting ultimate decision-making in the hands of producers. Phrases like “appropriate diet” and “appropriate environmental conditions” fail to communicate evidence-based best practice and guide behaviour. The code of practice should set out specific, measurable standards to promote producer accountability.

The draft code doesn’t address the rampant use of antibiotics in the poultry industry. Antibiotics should not be allowed for growth promotion or at sub-therapeutic levels. Instead of using antibiotics, producers should address the root of the problem: confining thousands of genetically immuno-compromised animals into crowded, filthy warehouses.

Image: Jo-Anne McArthur

Animal Justice

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