Jan Hajek: We Should Avoid Causing Animals Unnecessary Pain and Suffering

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The article below appeared in the Vancouver Sun on August 24, 2021. We encourage people to write in support: Join the conversation

Opinion: As made clear by some of the National Farm Animal Care Council’s codes of practice, life for many animals in Canada can involve a lot of suffering — and unnecessarily so Author of the article: Dr. Jan Hajek Publishing date: Aug 24, 2021  •  18 hours ago  •  3 minute read  •  Join the conversation

This past year, we have heard a lot about live animal markets and how the poor treatment of animals in other parts of the world may have led to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s easy to cast judgment on cruel practices abroad, but what about animals used for food here in Canada?

Government and industry representatives claim that animals on farms are treated very well, that their welfare is prioritized, and that there are strict regulations on farms. However, government and industry representatives, and even some animal welfare groups, have often misrepresented the existing standards for the treatment of animals.

In Canada, the National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC), an industry-led organization creates “codes of practice” and recommended standards for the care of animals on farms. These codes of practice are not laws and are largely driven by economic considerations. On farms, it is legal to cause an animal “distress” as long as it is a “generally accepted” farming practice — and NFACC can decide what is acceptable.

In describing the NFACC codes of practice, the B.C. minister of agriculture stated: “By accepting these codes of practice in their animal management practices, farmers and ranchers are making it clear that animals in their care are being treated with the utmost care and respect.”

However, NFACC codes allow for hot iron branding cattle, killing piglets by swinging them by their feet and hitting their heads against the floor, and cutting out the testicles of bulls under six months without any pain control.

The NFACC codes even establish anal electrocution as the recommended standard practice for killing of foxes on fur farms. Despite multiple alternative ways to kill foxes kept in cages their whole lives, according to NFACC: “On-farm euthanasia of foxes must be done “by electrocution using a single-process commercially manufactured device specifically designed for stunning and euthanizing foxes.”

The device uses “two electrodes that must be applied (a bite bar to the mouth and a probe into the rectum).” Imagine doing any of that to a dog or a cat.

I don’t think I am being naïve in believing that most people would not consider practices like the killing foxes using anal electrocution and using hot iron branding on cows as demonstrating “the utmost care and respect.”

Although there are no fox farms that currently operate in B.C., the practice of fox farming is legal in B.C. and would be eligible for financial support through the AgriStability program.

Government officials are not alone in misrepresenting the standards for the treatment of animals on farms. Even Humane Canada, the umbrella group for humane societies across Canada, supports the NFACC process, provides the standards legitimacy, and describes them as “acceptable standards of care for farm animals across Canada (that) serve as reference documents for provincial animal cruelty laws.”

As an infectious diseases doctor, I am keenly aware how important it is to accurately present health risks and animal welfare standards on farms. I also have a strong sense of social justice and try to ensure that all people are treated fairly. Like most people, my circle of concern and compassion extends to animals — like dogs and monkeys, even chickens, horses and cows.

I side with the scientific evidence and do not agree with the Ontario Federation of Agriculture’s contention that “we simply do not know if animals are capable of reasoning and cognitive thought.”

I have no doubt that most people, including farmers, would agree that we should avoid causing animals unnecessary pain and suffering. But, as made clear by some of the NFACC codes of practice, life for many animals in Canada can involve a lot of suffering — and unnecessarily so. Public statements by government officials, industry leaders, and humane societies that misrepresent existing standards of care on farms can make this situation even worse.

This won’t change without public pressure. We should care about how animals are treated not only because it is just and right but also because the way we use animals can have immense repercussions for our own health and well-being.

We should discuss these issues with our friends, colleagues and elected political representatives to ensure that we have real regulations to genuinely protect animals from unnecessary harm.

Dr. Jan Hajek is an infectious diseases physician at Vancouver General Hospital.

From the Vancouver Sun, August 24, 2021, https://vancouversun.com/opinion/jan-hajek-we-should-avoid-causing-animals-unnecessary-pain-and-suffering

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