Farmers understand benefits of animal welfare

Farmers must take the lead on animal welfare - their livelihoods depend on it. We like this article, published recently in the Guelph Mercury newspaper, that discusses this fact and a recent national funding announcement designed to take animal welfare even further in Canada - OFAC

Farmers understand benefits of animal welfare
Guelph Mercury
Owen Roberts
May 10, 2021

Healthy animals are profitable animals. And for farmers, profitability is the bottom line. Farmers who treat their animals poorly can face veterinarian bills, and other costly problems – such as a turned-off, unsupportive public. But right now, for the most part, consumers are on farmers’ side. And farmers aim to keep it that way.

Farmers support animal care organizations, such as the Guelph-based Ontario Farm Animal Council and the National Farm Animal Council. Those groups send signals to consumers that farmers are organized, serious and professional.

Council representatives and a cadre of others involved in animal agriculture were at the University of Guelph recently, in support of Hon. Gerry Ritz, the federal minister of agriculture and agri-food, who stopped to announce Ottawa was dedicating $3.4 million to help develop or update codes of good practice for livestock, particularly livestock handling. The funding will include funding for peer-reviewed, on-farm care-assessment measures.

The minister was careful to avoid the impression that there was anything wrong with the way farm animals are treated now. He and others repeatedly emphasized that Canadian producers practice high animal welfare standards.

But there was a reason he made the announcement at the university, outdoors, beside the on-campus dairy barn, which provided an air of authenticity to the event in more ways than one.

Ritz knows the University of Guelph is a global leader in agricultural research – and said so – including studies into animal care and animal welfare. Guelph developed early expertise in this area more than two decades ago, and today it has the country’s biggest animal welfare research program by far, as well as an exemplary program in animal care.

Research, which includes dialogue with farmers, is how new ideas turn into codes of good practice. “There’s new technology and new information available,” Ritz said. “Farmers have to review their codes of practices and make sure they are the latest and best.”

Farm animals are the beneficiaries of this federal commitment. According to Quebec hog farmer Edouard Asnong, chair of the National Farm Animal Care Council, that’s what the public wants.

Asnong joined the announcement in Guelph, and underlined that consumer assurance is squarely at the centre of this effort. Increased public interest and concern about farm animals mean producers need to be on top of new developments about animal housing, transportation, health and treatment in general. “As farmers, we care for our animals,” he said, “but there is always something new we can implement on our farms.”

International trading partners are also interested in what’s up in Canada. They’re looking for science-based evidence that the meat, meat products and livestock they buy from Canada and other countries was raised ethically and to the highest standards.

Importers are sensitive to consumers’ concerns about animal welfare in foreign countries. And Canada, as a major exporting nation, needs to be able to point to research, on-farm programs, industry strategies and commitments from all levels of government to support its contention that in this country, farm animals live contentedly.

That’s not always obvious, nor is it easy to prove. It’s especially tough as consumers demand higher standards, yet don’t want to pay for them. What are farmers supposed to do? They don’t get paid enough as it is for looking after their animals. But the cost of providing animals a safe, healthy, comfortable environment somehow must be reflected in the price of food. Production efficiencies can only go so far.

In any event, farmers and governments must take the lead on animal care issues and drive the agenda, rather than react to others who can influence policy, but don’t understand the industry. Ritz’s announcement helps the industry take that leadership position.

Owen Roberts teaches agricultural communications at the University of Guelph. Follow him at www.urbancowboy.ca

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Posted by OFAC on May 20th, 2010 :: Filed under Animal care,Animal health,Canada,Farm life,Innovation and technology,Media,Research
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