The BC SPCA believes that all animals should enjoy, as a minimum, five essential freedoms, which were first described by the Farm Animal Welfare Council of the UK:
- Freedom from hunger and thirst
- Freedom from pain, injury and disease
- Freedom from distress
- Freedom from discomfort
- Freedom to express behaviours that promote well-being
What does animal welfare mean?
The objectives of the BC SPCA are to prevent cruelty and to promote the welfare of animals. Animal welfare means an animal’s quality of life, and it is affected by animals’ physical health and the feelings they experience.
Animals experience good welfare when they are able to experience positive feelings (arising from pleasurable activities and the fulfillment of behavioural needs) and when they are free from poor physical health and negative feelings (such as pain, discomfort, hunger, thirst, fear and frustration).
Animals that are healthy, pain-free, comfortable and unstressed are said to have good welfare.
Horses and farm animals come into the BC SPCA’s care through cruelty investigations. Sadly, they are usually in poor condition. In many cases they require extensive nutritional and medical rehabilitation due to starvation and health issues.
The BC SPCA has the extremely difficult challenge of finding care for these horses and adopting them out to experienced, permanent homes. In 2015 the Cruelty Investigations Department opened the Good Shepherd Barn in Cloverdale and the Kelowna Recovery and Adoption Barn to accommodate horses and farm animals involved in cruelty investigations. A third farm animal facility is being planned for Nanaimo. The BC SPCA does not have the resources to take in surrendered horses and farm animals at this time.
We rely heavily on donations to provide foster homes and boarding facilities for horses in our care. Other expenses include food, veterinary and farrier care during rehabilitation and recovery from injuries or illness.
The BC SPCA considers fish to be sentient, capable of experiencing negative emotions such as pain and fear. We are therefore concerned about a number of welfare issues that can arise on fish farms. Examples include:
- Poor water quality
- Disease transmission
- Stressful handling, transport and slaughter procedures
Humane treatment for fish — as for other farm animals — means providing proper nutrition, veterinary care and a safe, clean and comfortable low-stress environment. Those responsible for managing fish farms should ensure that animal welfare is an integral part of every aspect of production every day.
The BC SPCA supports the development of welfare-focused minimum standards for aquaculture, such as the National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC) codes of practice for the care and handling of farm animals. Find out how these national codes work.
To adopt a pig or any other animal from the BC SPCA, please visit our adoptions page. But before you adopt a pig, please consider the diversity of pig needs, which are much different from the needs of a pet dog or cat. For example:
- How big should you expect a mini, micro or teacup pig to actually grow?
- What kind of manners do pigs have – how do they behave?
- Are pigs compatible with other pets?
- What do pigs eat?
- Who will be your pig’s vet, and does your local vet accept pig patients?
- Should you get a pet pig spayed or neutered?
- What type of house-training is required?
- What costs are involved?
Get the answer to these and other important questions on our pet pig information page.
To adopt a chicken or any other animal from the BC SPCA, please visit our adoptions page. But before you decide to raise your own backyard chickens, please consider the following:
- Does your municipality allow the keeping of backyard chickens?
- What do chickens eat? What should you feed to chickens?
- Do you have access to suitable veterinary care in your community?
- What do you plan to do with your chickens once they stop laying eggs?
- How will you protect your chickens from bad weather and natural predators?
- What are you going to do with all that chicken poo?
- What are the risks associated with owning chickens?
- How do you transport a chicken? Do you know how to humanely catch a chicken?
Get the answer to these and other important questions on our urban chickens information page.
A farm must first be certified in the SPCA Certified program in order to be allowed to use the SPCA Certified label (the little red barn logo and claim statement) on certified food products. To become certified, the farm must undergo an annual on-farm assessment and third-party review to ensure compliance with SPCA Certified program standards (i.e. the program requirements).
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has approved use of the SPCA Certified label by SPCA Certified farmers on their certified products. However, certified farmers are not required to use the label, and some of them choose not to for various reasons.
The BC SPCA continues to work with SPCA Certified farmers to incorporate the program label on their certified product packaging, and continues to assist them in promoting their products via other channels (e.g. farm signs, websites).
To ensure the highest animal welfare standards are being met on farm, your best bet is to ask for, and look for, the SPCA Certified label on food products.
Free-run, free-range, all natural, animal-friendly…these labels all sound good, but are the animals actually treated well? How would you know? The BC SPCA works to empower consumers to choose higher-welfare food products, and recognizes farmers who make a difference for how farm animals are raised. Here’s how you can keep farm animal welfare at the top of your grocery list!
BEST: Choose a certified label
Third-party animal welfare certifications such as those listed below audit their farms often to verify the farmer is raising animals to a higher standard of animal welfare than what is commonly done in the farming industry. Third-party certifications ensure you get what you pay for when it comes to animal care.
Animal Welfare Approved (AWA)
Animal Welfare Approved, by A Greener World, requires animals to be free from confinement housing (like cages for egg-laying hens), have outdoor access, and have the ability to engage in positive natural behaviours.
Certified Humane products come from animals who are not overcrowded in confinement systems (like cages for egg-laying hens). The standards are upheld through annual inspections conducted by species experts. There are third-party independent inspections of all farms, ranches and slaughter facilities. Certified Humane products can be found at Choices Markets, Nester Market, Safeway and Whole Foods.
Global Animal Partnership (GAP)
GAP is a 5-step animal welfare rating program. Higher steps (3 and up) require farms to meet strict welfare standards. Lower steps (1-2) facilitate the transition of conventional farms to higher standards, but allow some harmful practices during the transition. GAP foods are most commonly found at Whole Foods Market.
The organic label has more to do with the inputs that go into raising the animals – for example, no GMO’s, herbicides, pesticides or medications are permitted. The focus is on ‘natural’. Organic certification has some animal welfare requirements, such as outdoor access for farm animals, though animal welfare is not the main focus of this certification. Organic certification does ban some of the most concerning industry practices like housing egg-laying hens in cages. Be sure to look for the organic label on the product, as some farms make the claim they are organic but don’t actually obtain the certification. Certified Organic food can be found at most grocery stores.
GOOD: Animal welfare labels
These labels are not third-party certified, but do mean the animals were raised to higher animal welfare standards.
Cage-free: Animals are not housed in cages, crates or stalls. Cage-free usually applies to egg-laying hens or eggs, but may also apply to pigs or pork (sometimes called ‘crate-free’ or ‘stall-free’ for pork). Did you know cage-free eggs may be healthier for you?
Free-run: Animals are raised cage-free and indoors. This label is only applicable to egg-laying hens, but not turkeys or chickens raised for meat. All Canadian turkeys and broiler chickens are raised free-run. This label is not applicable to pork as only parent pigs are housed in crates or stalls, not the young pigs that become pork chops and bacon.
Free-range: Animals are raised cage-free with outdoor access when the weather is good. The quality of the outdoor area varies widely and the amount of time the animals get to spend outdoors is not monitored. If you see this label on pork, be sure to ask whether the parent pigs are housed in stalls/crates, or if they are allowed to roam outside too.
Pasture-raised / Pastured: Animals are raised cage-free outdoors on pasture. However, this claim is unregulated, so it may not mean the animals spent their whole lives on pasture.
Grass-fed, or grass-fed and finished: Animals have access to pasture and a diet made up of forages (grass and hay), but in Canada, the grass-fed claim is not regulated. If you see the grass-fed label used on beef or sheep products, be sure to ask if they were 100% grass-fed and finished, meaning they were raised solely on grass, never grains. Some animals are raised on pasture then sent to a feedlot where they are fed grains or corn to fatten them up before slaughter. Grain/corn is not a natural diet for cattle and sheep and can lead to a host of animal welfare problems, like severe gut pain.
AVOID: Misleading claims
Avoid claims that vaguely imply animal welfare benefits but actually provide little or no improvements, and no certification to verify the claim.
Such labels include:
- Farm/country fresh
- Enriched colony, Comfort Coop or nest-laid eggs
- Born-3 (Omega-3) eggs
- Animal Care Certified
- Farms meet the minimum animal care requirements outlined in the Canadian Codes of Practice, therefore animals are not raised to higher standards
Learn about the top seven most confusing and misleading food labels.
What are you paying for?
By purchasing higher-welfare foods, you avoid conventional farming systems, which can have many animal welfare issues. You are choosing to support animal welfare benefits such as:
- Cage-free systems
- Enriching environments
- Expression of natural animal behaviours
- Transparency in animal production
- Any many more
What can you do?
- Look for an animal welfare certification
- Talk to your local grocer and ask for certified products to be available in store
- Choose “GOOD” products when certified products are unavailable
- Avoid purchasing products raised using inhumane practices (e.g. caged eggs, foie gras)
- Shop your local farmers’ market, ask questions, and visit the farms when possible
Subscribe to FarmSense newsletter
FarmSense is delivered four times a year and includes news about farm animal welfare, research and updates on what the BC SPCA is doing to help further animal welfare in Canada.
The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act outlines generally accepted practices of animal management as a reason by which distress is legally acceptable.
Generally accepted practices of animal management are ways of handling or caring for animals that are commonly accepted by society. Sometimes these practices still cause pain, suffering and distress to animals. If the practices haven’t been written down in any official document, it is up to experts like veterinarians and leaders in the relevant industry (such as animal farming, sled dogs, animal breeding or horse racing) to give expert testimony in court when there is an animal neglect or cruelty case.
The Canadian Organic Standards outline minimum animal welfare expectations for Certified Organic farmers. The BC SPCA is extremely committed to improving welfare standards for animals living on organic farms in Canada. A 2015 update of the standards included important improvements for animal welfare such as banning crates for pigs and banning tethering for cows.
In September 2018, the next revision process got underway, with completion of the next Organic Standard anticipated to occur in November 2020. The draft standards opened for public comment on July 2, 2019.
The BC SPCA commented on the standards and asked you to support our comments and/or add your own. The many comments are now being reviewed by the development committee and we are hopeful that further improvements will be made.
The BC SPCA will continue to collaborate with organic associations across Canada on improving farm animal welfare in organic production systems.
The BC SPCA also operates its own in-house farm certification and food labeling program, SPCA Certified, with the aim of further improving animal welfare on farms. The SPCA Certified and organic certification programs are complementary. Learn how they compare (PDF).
Dairy products have presented a challenge to our SPCA Certified program because of the way milk is collected. A bulk milk truck collects milk from many farms, pooling (combining) all of the milk into the same tank before bringing it to the processor where it may be pooled again before packaging. In addition, the processor does not have control over which farm’s milk it receives.
Under this system, dairy products from certified and non-certified farms cannot be distinguished, and therefore, cannot be labeled as SPCA Certified.
To solve this issue, a number of farms need to sign on to a program and work with a milk processor and the BC Milk Marketing Board to implement a system where specific tanker trucks are designated to pick up milk from certified farms.
To jump start this, consumers need to ask for a specialty milk product (like SPCA Certified), giving the processor reason to initiate the discussion with the Milk Marketing Board and the farmers.
This happened with organic dairy products, which is the reason you see more of them in the grocery store. Organic dairy producers have their own milk trucks to prevent mixing of organic milk with non-organic milk, but again, the truck collects milk from many organic farms before emptying the tank.
SPCA Certified farmers want to be able to label their milk and other dairy products as such, but since it can’t be separated from the other non-SPCA-Certified milk, it is not possible unless the farmer processes his/her own milk into fluid milk products, cheeses, butter, etc. To date, the dairy industry has not been willing to designate separate trucks to only a few SPCA Certified dairy farms. So, to produce SPCA Certified labelled milk and other dairy products, we would need to certify a larger group of producers whose milk would go into the same truck.
Another challenge is the requirement that all SPCA Certified dairy cattle have access to pasture or a deep bedded pack, because many dairy farms currently are not set up that way. The large majority of non-organic dairy farms do not let their cows outside, nor do they have any pasture land or barns that can accommodate a bedded pack. Only organic dairy farms are required to let their cows outside, and even then, it doesn’t have to be every day. Some organic dairy cows are still housed tied up in stalls.
The SPCA Certified program has contacted the organic dairy industry to determine the level of interest in having organic cattle become SPCA Certified as well, since they are already collecting organic milk with separate tanker trucks. To date, there has been no success in these efforts.
Food from farms certified for animal welfare practices are a niche market that a pooled milk system is not set up for. Until we can find a way to keep certified milk separate (like they do with organic milk), the system is better suited to cheeses, yogurts and other dairy products that can be processed separately and do not need to be pooled together.
While the BC SPCA regularly works in partnership with animal rights organizations, and we enjoy a mutual respect for each other’s work, our philosophies differ. The BC SPCA is an animal welfare organization, not an animal rights organization.
The goal of animal rights organizations is to end all use of animals by humans, including use of animals for food, clothing, in entertainment, in research and as pets.
As an animal welfare organization, the BC SPCA acknowledges that many Canadians rely on domesticated farm animals for food. Our farm programming exists to improve the lives of animals being raised on farms to ensure they reach the end of their lives as peacefully as possible. We encourage people who choose a diet consisting of meats, dairy products or eggs to choose only products raised to the highest standards of animal welfare.
The BC SPCA recommends evidence-based animal welfare certification programs to ensure that animals raised for food are treated as humanely as possible throughout their lives via the five freedoms outlined in the BC SPCA mission statement.
Leading by example, our internal BC SPCA food policy ensures that only qualifying higher welfare animal products are served at BC SPCA events, and that vegan and vegetarian foods are available.
Yes, you can adopt horses from the BC SPCA. Horses come into the care of the BC SPCA as a result of cruelty investigations. These horses are rehabilitated on-site at the BC SPCA Good Shepherd Barn, the Kelowna Recovery & Adoption Barn, or in foster homes across the province. Interested in fostering horses? Apply to become a foster home online.
Viewings are by appointment. A completed adoption application and a home check are required as part of the adoption process.
Adoption fees vary from $250 to $750, or more. Basic medical exams are performed by a veterinarian when horses are in our care; however, it is recommended that potential adopters carry out pre-purchase exams when considering horse adoption.
The SPCA Certified program is a farm certification and food-labeling program dedicated to improving the lives of farm animals raised for food in Canada. Products labeled with the “little red barn” logo come from farms that are annually assessed to SPCA Certified farm animal welfare standards by trained, independent validators.
SPCA Certified farmers do not use confinement housing (e.g. cages for chickens), they provide enrichment to the animals’ environment and they ensure painful practices like dehorning and castration (neutering) are minimized or eliminated.
Learn more about the SPCA Certified program.
The BC SPCA recognizes and values the interconnectedness people share with all animals.
As an animal welfare organization, we acknowledge that many Canadians rely on domesticated farm animals for food. Therefore, we work to increase public awareness about farm animal welfare issues, promote individual actions that lead to improved farm animal welfare, and press for evidence-based changes to provincial and national laws.
Our farm programming improves the quality of life of animals being raised on farms to ensure they reach the end of their lives as peacefully as possible. We encourage people who choose a diet consisting of meats, dairy products or eggs to choose only products raised to the highest standards of animal welfare.
It costs the BC SPCA $40 per day to care for a horse.
In addition to this, there are other costs of care:
- Intake exam and blood work when necessary: $150+
- Hoof trimming every 4-6 weeks: $40 per trim
- Internal and external parasite treatment/control: $20
- Castration of intact male horses: $500
- Other medical care/medications as needed
The BC SPCA supports the initiative to establish evidence-based standards and clear expectations for the practice of slaughter without prior stunning. Nonetheless, since slaughter without prior stunning has been scientifically demonstrated to cause unnecessary suffering, the BC SPCA position is that governments should take more substantial action by eliminating the practice in Canada, or at the very least, by requiring immediate post-cut stunning of every animal.
Unfortunately, our constables have no inspection powers in slaughterhouses and can only attend to investigate if we receive complaints from someone who has witnessed animal cruelty directly. Also, because these ritual slaughter practices are legally permitted under B.C.’s and Canada’s meat processing laws, they are also effectively exempt from prosecution under the B.C. Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, as they constitute “reasonable and generally accepted practices.”
Developments began in 2016 to create national standards to address this issue and a public consultation period was held in early 2017 to gather feedback on the proposal. The BC SPCA was told that our position statement on the issue was considered, and we will continue to fight for tougher standards to prevent suffering of these animals.
This is an issue that would be really important for government to hear from you on personally. We suggest writing to the Provincial and Federal Agriculture Ministers and copying in your local MLA and MP. It’s always really important that they hear directly from their constituents on these issues.