FROM THE EDITOR: November 2006
Kristy NuddsFeatures Business & Policy Consumer Issues
The Time is Now
The Time is Now. Poultry welfare research in Canada was the subject of a recent workshop
held by the Canadian Poultry Research Council (CPRC) in Agassiz,
Poultry welfare research in Canada was the subject of a recent workshop held by the Canadian Poultry Research Council (CPRC) in Agassiz, British Columbia. The CPRC identified that many institutions in Canada are conducting a variety of poultry welfare-related research, and that much work is still to be done.
The report from the workshop contains several insights that will serve the industry well, should the recommendations be implemented in a timely fashion. But a recent event held by the Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals (CCFA) showed that time is of the essence where animal welfare is concerned. “Much work is still to be done” needs to be translated into “This is what is being done.”
The poultry industry is being watched closely by the CCFA, an alliance between provincial humane societies, animal rights groups and consumer watchdogs. They are very organized, have compelling, up-to-date websites, and have considerable financial backing.
Case in point: ‘Delivering Humane Food in Canada’, the CCFA event held in late October in Toronto. This wasn’t a platform for bashing animal agriculture or the merits of vegetarianism. This was a well-organized event with top-notch speakers, the premier speaker being Dr. Temple Grandin from the University of Colorado, who has been actively involved in the evaluation and redesign of slaughter facilities for increased welfare standards worldwide.
The CCFA and its supporters want more humane standards for food production, and want consumers to be aware of how the products they buy in the supermarket are raised. Number one on their hit list is caged laying hens, and they’ve chosen Canada’s largest grocery chain, Loblaws, as their target.
And they mean business. Using a photograph (albeit questionably, if not illegally) obtained from a Canadian farm, they have created postcards consumers can send directly to Mr. Galen Weston, the Executive Chairman of Loblaw Companies Ltd. The goal is to have Loblaw demand that suppliers label eggs as coming from either cage-free or caged birds. This is a simple tactic that could have profound implications for the poultry industry in Canada.
The CPRC identified getting research into practice and the coordination of research efforts across the country as issues requiring priority attention. I couldn’t agree more. Groups such as the CCFA want to see that changes are being made, or that alternative systems are being studied. Many members are put at ease when they realize that these issues are being addressed by industry.
However, if this takes too long, the industry could have to answer some tough questions if welfare groups succeed in educating consumers about some of its practices. Canada has a plethora of expertise in poultry welfare, but research efforts are disjointed. The CPRC suggested that a dedicated poultry welfare and behaviour specialist in Canada could champion coordinated research efforts and relay research results to industry.
This would be giant step in the right direction of quelling the fears and misconceptions of welfare groups and consumers, and position Canada as a leader. We have to remember that members of welfare groups are emotional beings. They have little or no understanding of the issues relating to productivity or cost analysis; they respond with compassion. But when they can be made to understand some of the industry’s issues, and that the industry has a willingness to hear them, the lines of communication can be opened, and being at the centre of nasty media campaigns and consumer backlash could be a thing of the past.
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