let's talk farm animals

Why expertise does not trump politics

By: Leslie Ballentine, Farming and Food Commentator

There’s lots of talk on the need for science-based policy decisions by politicians at all levels of government.  No more so than at the municipal level.  The City of Toronto is a prime example of local politicians over-riding both science and experience in making decisions about animals.

In 2011 alone Toronto councillors have banned the sale of cats and dogs at commercial pet stores, banned the sale of shark fins, and most recently overruled the decision by the management board of the city-owned zoo on where to relocate the zoo’s three elephants.  These decisions were all made against the advisement of those who are subject matter experts and directly involved in these matters, including the city’s own legal advisers. Toronto’s decisions are being made just as municipalities across Canada and the U.S are having the same three issues brought before them.  It kind of reminds me of the “So-and-so’s mom lets her so you should too” argument. An argument used in all of these three cases.

To my mind the most disconcerting case involves the three elephants that have called the zoo home for a long time. That the management board appears to have buckled to the international campaign by the animal rights lobby to “retire” zoo elephants in northern climates to sanctuaries in warmer climes is only offset by the knowledge that the financially strapped Toronto Zoo can not afford to keep their elephants anymore.  A similar battle with the financially solvent Edmonton Zoo over it’s elephant is now headed to the Supreme Court of Canada.

But what has many upset, including myself, is the fact that Toronto politicians feel they are more qualified to make the call than the experts.  Once the decision to retire the elephants was made, the zoo board decided to send them to an Association of Zoos and Aquariums-accredited facility, rather than to the Performing Animal Welfare Society’s sanctuary in California, as requested by retired The Price Is Right host and elephant rescue hobbyist Bob Barker. But then city council got into the act and voted to send the elephants to the PAWS sanctuary after all.

The fact that this unaccredited sanctuary has animal rights ties, is a longer travel distance for these aging elephants than the zoo’s proposed Florida-based accredited retirement centre, and that the cost will be covered by a generous donation from Mr. Barker himself should all be cause for questions. Even a last minute intervention attempt by both the Canadian and American zoo accreditation bodies failed to win the day. A five hour council debate primed with signed petitions and depositions by both supporters and opponents ended in council overruling the zoo board decision in mid- November. Worse, it moves the travel date up to this coming April while zoo handlers say it could take up to 18 months to prepare the elephants to make a lengthy trip.  `

As one media pundit noted in a column last week, “But does anyone other than me find it strange that suddenly everyone’s an elephant expert and the word of a has-been television game show host apparently counts for more than that of the people who actually care for the animals?  But these are times in which the word of a celebrity is accepted regardless of what he might actually know about any given subject.  We let Paul McCartney lecture us on baby seals in the same way we allow Bob Barker to walk all over us for no good reason, other than having watched him on television forever. And where does city council get off making decisions that properly belong in the hands of the zoo’s employees and board of directors? Since when do they know better than the elephant keepers?  If they’re so smart, why aren’t they out supervising road crews in pothole season?”

What such political behaviour will mean for our food supply should concern us all. And as my mother always answered me, “If So-and-so’s mother said it was OK to jump off a bridge, would you?”

Until the Next Blog



Posted by FFC on November 28th, 2011 :: Filed under Activism,Animal care,Regulations
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