A Glimmer of Hope for Canadian PigsPosted by Sophie Gaillard, ALDF Canadian Spokesperson on March 10, 2014
Last Thursday, Canada’s National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC) released the new Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Pigs. Though the new Code stops far short of affording pigs what most of us would consider adequate living conditions, it does include some noteworthy improvements. Effective immediately, pigs must be provided with multiple forms of enrichment. Use of analgesics for castration and tail docking will be mandatory as of July 2016. Most notably, the Code provides for a phase-out of gestation crates by 2024, with a requirement that, as of July of this year, all new constructions provide for group housing (though facilities can still allow for up to 35 days of confinement in gestation crates at the beginning of a sow’s pregnancy).
Without a doubt, the publication of the new pig Code marks a significant advancement in the fight for farmed animal protection in Canada. However, it is important to keep in mind that the NFACC is not a legislative entity and that its Codes of Practice do not have force of law. Indeed, the only province or territory to have enacted legislation making compliance with the Codes mandatory is Newfoundland and Labrador. So what does the new Code actually mean for Canada’s 27 million pigs?
The power of the Codes of Practice resides in the fact that industry plays an important role in developing their content, and thus generally agrees to adhere to its requirements. In this case, the Canadian Pork Council, which represents nine provincial pork industry associations, has committed to adopting the standards set out in the new pig Code. These standards will be incorporated into the Canadian Pork Council’s on-farm Animal Care Assessment program, a program which is mandatory for all registered pork producers and subject to external verification. Of course, the efficacy of this system remains to be seen and will largely depend on how the verifications are carried out (independence of the entity carrying out the inspections, frequency and basis of inspections, whether inspections are announced in advance, sanctions in case of non-compliance, etc.).
Additionally, while the animal welfare requirements outlined in NFACC Codes of Practice are not legally binding, they do serve as a gauge of what constitutes acceptable conduct in the eyes of the industry, and thus can assist in the interpretation of animal protection legislation. Because most provincial animal welfare laws exempt activities that are consistent with “generally accepted practices,” whether a particular practice is legal or illegal often hinges on whether it is seen as acceptable by the industry. The Codes of Practice can therefore be used by law enforcement and prosecutors to define what constitutes legal or illegal activity under provincial animal protection statutes.
Although a legislative measure, coupled with strict and consistent enforcement, would undoubtedly ensure better protection for Canada’s pigs, the new pig Code is a step in the right direction. Perhaps most importantly, the consensus that was reached regarding the Code’s requirements indicates that industry is beginning to realize that intensive confinement, systematic mutilation without analgesia, and other barbaric practices that characterize modern animal agriculture, are unacceptable to the public. Taking animal welfare into account is no longer a matter of choice for producers—and that is certainly something worth celebrating.
Sophie Gaillard is an attorney and campaigns manager for the Montreal SPCA’s animal advocacy department and an ALDF Canadian spokesperson.