Meet the Public’s Demand for Proper Animal Handling

A matter of survival! Having control over your own destiny! These are a couple of reasons why the Canadian livestock industry needs to not only recognize, but actually deal with a growing animal activist movement. Animal welfare and animal rights forces are not only concerned with the well-being of whales, wolves, laboratory animals, and domestic livestock production practices in other countries.

They are described as very real, well-educated, well-funded forces gaining momentum in Canada and the rest of North America. Turning a deaf ear to the message activists are preaching could have serious consequences for Canadian agriculture, warns Dr. Frank Hurnik, a University of Guelph animal science professor, who is also editor of The Journal of Agricultural Ethics. “If producers, truckers, feeders, auction market operators and packers ignore the animal welfare movement it could harm the marketability of their products and ultimately their livelihood,” notes Hurnik. “Marketability to the public also depends on the social reputation of the industry.”

A recent lobby by animal activists that convinced a major U.S. based fast-food chain to drop veal from its menu is an example of how public pressure affects product marketability. As the animal welfare movement gains greater political strength, it isn’t a pipe dream to expect activists to demand legislation and regulations governing the livestock industry. And, if Canadian livestock marketers don’t accept the responsibility to regulate themselves and develop an industry that can withstand scrutiny, it’s likely someone else will do it for them.

Welfarists and Rightists

The agriculture industry has two types of watchdogs. Animal welfarists and animal rightists have a common interest in the wellbeing of animals. But they also have a major philosophical difference.The prime concern of animal welfarists is to prevent any avoidable suffering, and to ensure a high quality of animal care. The prime concern of animal rightists is respecting the life of each single animal . . . protecting every animal’s right to live.

While neither force has made a strong challenge to the Canadian animal agriculture industry, it is clear humane livestock production would be better tolerated by animal welfarists. By comparison, the industry would constantly be under pressure to be shut down if rightists’ views were generally accepted.

Dr. Red Williams, animal scientist from the University of Saskatchewan, notes animal rightists are more extreme. “They are quite prepared to use any method to achieve their objectives, including breaking the law, and certainly injuring other humans by taking away their means of livelihood and abusing their beliefs through harassment,” he explains.

Precedent is Set

In countries such as Switzerland and Sweden where well-established animal welfarists have strong public support, livestock producers adhere to strict regulations.For example, battery cages can no longer be used in poultry production, cattle have been given grazing rights, every animal must have daily exercise, and there are specific regulations covering the handling and treatment of livestock during transportation.

As the younger segment of a growing urban population gains its political strength in this country, it will be only a matter of time before some people will demand this type of regulation in Canada.

Develop and Preserve Public Confidence

Most Canadians support animal welfare views. Initially most welfarists have taken a moderate, more tolerant approach. But it is expected if the livestock industry is not vigilant in improving its public image, the welfarists could be replaced by the rightists. Whatever opportunity exists today to keep the livestock industry operating within control of producers and marketers, could be lost if animal rightists gain political clout.

Challenge For the Industry

While many improvements have been made in animal handling, Temple Grandin of Colorado State University, an internationally-respected expert on livestock handling, points out the agriculture industry cannot rest on its laurels.A strong advocate of the humane treatment of livestock, Grandin says improvements have been made in the last 10 years, but the real test is yet to come.”We need to be able to take a city person with little knowledge of the livestock industry through the average feedlot, and with a basic amount of explanations have them understand and accept production practices,” she explains. ” and you can’t do that everywhere in  North America today.”The Canadian livestock industry needs to adopt a pro-active position, Hurnik urges. The industry needs to work towards standards on livestock production and handling practices, and an effective supervisory body to ensure standards are met.

The focus for regulation changes will be on handling and housing facilities at feedlots; on transportation standards, particularly on the care and treatment of livestock during long hauls; on primary production practices such as the need for and timing of branding, dehorning and castration of calves; on auction market handling and housing standards, as well as before and after sales care of livestock.

Marketers must be active

Livestock marketers need to take an active role in explaining the importance of proper treatment and handling to members. At the same time, the industry needs to be open with the public about its concerns and objectives.

Be prepared to admit and correct shortcomings. “To improve operation standards may mean an increase in costs, “suggests Hurnik. “But at the same time production efficiency should improve. Just being able to ensure the continued marketability of agricultural products should represent a good return on investment.”