From the editor: October 2016

Lawyer Up
Kristy Nudds
Thursday, 13 October 2016
By Kristy Nudds
In last month’s magazine, our cover story outlined some of the very real hurdles the Canadian agriculture industry faces to gaining the trust of the public to produce its food. Our Perspectives column this month (see page 38) emphasizes the fact that 60 per cent of the public wants more information on farming. Ian McKillop says ensuring the farming community finds a way to connect is an immediate priority.

However, this will be a difficult task, made more difficult by increased media interest in highlighting undercover videos taken by animal activist groups alleging neglect and abuse on Canadian farms. Such videos and allegations are visually disturbing to many and play on human emotions, which unfortunately makes for great TV and headlines.

With the decline in the quality of print media and the evolving digital media world, journalists don’t have time anymore to tell all sides of a story, or even do a simple interview. If an undercover video and/or press release arrives on their desk nicely packaged and easy to put online within a few minutes, then that’s what happens. It’s a sad reality.

Unlike the sensationalistic tactics that were once employed by animal rights groups, the use of undercover videos has resulted in changes in how farm animals will be raised for food in the future. We know first-hand that retailers and food companies have paid attention.

Animal rights groups have become much smarter in their approach – not only through the use of media but through the law as well. And it’s the latter that I think the industry needs to keep its eye on.

Remember Proposition 2? Prop 2 was one of the first successful uses of the law in North America to mandate the desire of an animal rights group (in this case, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), which was the driving force behind it).

The HSUS realized too late that the wording used in Prop 2 allowed for the use of enriched colony cages, something the organization never intended. The end goal was, of course, to have hens in aviaries or free-range pasture systems. This was a bit of an “oopsie” on its part and one I’m sure it won’t make again.

In Canada, the founder of Animal Justice is a lawyer, as are its Executive Director and recently appointed Director of Farmed Animal Advocacy. This group has been successful at challenging existing laws and policies on animal and animal product use.  

Earlier this year, a private member’s bill, Bill C-246 (the “Modernizing Animal Protections Act”), tabled by Ontario MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, had its first reading. Although most members’ bills are not passed, watch this one closely: if passed as written, it could have implications for slaughter, transport, research and perhaps even rearing animals. The bill can be accessed at www.openparliament.ca.

Late last year in Quebec, a bill was passed that recognizes animals as “sentient beings” rather than things. The University of Ottawa recently announced it is offering a course in animal law this fall semester. One of the instructors is a recent UOttawa law student, Justine Perron, who founded the university’s Animal Protection Association.  Perron told the Ottawa Citizen in August that she formed the association after seeing videos depicting cruelty. She says one way to create change is to tackle these issues at the legal level. “I hope more lawyers will have the knowledge in that sphere of law and be more interested in that cause.”

Make no mistake, Perron and other lawyers are highly motivated to be an advocate for the welfare of animals. The poultry industry needs to gird itself and present another equally compelling voice on behalf of animals.

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