Following the inhumane killing of up to 100 sled dogs in Whistler nearly two years ago, the B.C. government recently announced the creation of the Sled Dog Code of Practice, which sets out basic standards of care for the animals. The codes continue to allow numerous abusive practices, including sustained periods of tethering and the use of shotguns as a form of “euthanasia”. The minimal standards also fail to come with funding for actual enforcement. Because of this, the codes are raising the discontent of animal-protection organizations and the general public.
While criticism of the Sled Dog Code of Practice is justified, hundreds of millions of other animals rely on weak, voluntary, and, by and large, unenforced codes of practice for their care and protection. These animals are the 600 million animals raised for food each year in Canada.
Under the codes of practice for animals raised for food—dairy cows, for example—can have their calves torn from them within minutes of their birth as the cow’s lucrative milk is destined for human palates, not to sustain the cow’s own newborn. Distressed by this routine procedure, the mothers often pace and bellow endlessly while searching in vain for their calves. Confined alone and without comfort and care from their mothers, calves often suffer from diarrhea, ulcers, pneumonia, or other ailments.
The codes of practice also allow sows (mother pigs) to live lives of intense confinement, deprivation, and heartache within gestation crates. Forced to exist in these barren concrete and metal stalls, which do not even allow the animals to turn around, sows will have every one of their piglets torn away within weeks of their birth. They frequently develop stereotypies, such as repetitive head-bobbing and bar-chewing, from the social deprivation and chronic frustration. After two to three years of this misery, most sows are shipped to slaughterhouses in the U.S. which do not have antidragging legislation. As a result, animals too sick, diseased, or injured to stand are often painfully dragged to their deaths.
Chickens are not excluded from the suffering by the codes of practice. Egg-laying hens, who enjoy dust baths and have a strong drive to build nests for their eggs, are allowed to be confined in metal battery cages, in crowded and barren conditions which prevent them from even fully stretching their wings.
Painful mutilations without anesthesia or analgesia are also allowed. For instance, workers can routinely slice into the sensitive skin of male piglets and rip out their testicles with their fingers to castrate the animals. They can also burn off the sensitive tips of chickens’ and turkeys’ beaks, and cut or burn off the ends of their toes, inflicting acute pain but also often leaving the animals with chronic pain.
Codes of practice for Canada’s farm animals not only offer little to no protection against numerous cruel practices, they are also either unheard of or ignored. At a recent dairy conference I attended, producers were asked to raise their hands if they were aware of the codes of practice for dairy cows; only a few hands were raised. Of those who knew of the presence of the codes, none had actually read them.
To add further insult to injury, the minimum standards set out in the codes for farm animals are voluntary in most Canadian provinces. (While they have been codified into law in Manitoba, they are rarely to never enforced.)
Canadians are justly upset at the lack of protection afforded sled dogs by the newly announced Code of Practice for Sled Dogs. We can only hope that this concern will extend to the hundreds of millions of farm animals languishing under similar minimal, unenforced codes in Canada.
Until we, as a society, recognize the abysmal way in which we are failing Canada’s farm animals, this broken system will continue, condemning hundreds of millions of animals to lives of systemic abuse and suffering.
Olivier Berreville is the scientific advisor for Canadians for the Ethical Treatment of Food Animals.