The weather across the province has been heating up, and farmers’ markets are in full swing across B.C. (find a market near you). Farmers’ markets provide a wonderful opportunity to learn about where our food comes from and how it was produced. Whether or not you’re a regular at your local farmers’ market, you can help improve the lives of farmed animals by making informed food choices. Here are three quick tips on how you can be an animal ambassador at farmers’ markets.
1. Don’t skip the fruits and veggies
Over the past five decades, global demand for animal-based foods has more than tripled. This has caused farm industries to transition toward intensive farming systems. Intensive farming puts tremendous pressure on the environment, and contributes to a number of problems affecting human health and farm animal welfare. To help reduce these impacts, an increasing number of Canadians are choosing to incorporate more plant-based foods into their diet. Health Canada supports this choice. Their most recent update to Canada’s Food Guide recommends that Canadians “make it a habit to eat a variety of healthy foods each day” and to “choose protein foods that come from plants more often”. So remember to fill up your reusable bags and baskets with a healthy variety of fruits and veggies on your next visit to the farmers’ market. Your body, the environment and animals will thank you.
2. Support family farmers
Most food sold in supermarkets comes from intensive farms, where large numbers of animals are confined to small spaces. Farmers’ markets are one of the best places to go if you want to find alternatives to intensively-farmed meat, eggs and dairy. Family farmers need your support, too. Now that large agribusiness dominates food production, small family farms have a hard time competing. Buying directly from family farmers gives them a better return for their products and gives them a fighting chance in today’s globalized economy.
3. Shop with your heart and ask questions
When you’re trying to make ethical food choices, many people will tell you to find out as much as you can about where your food comes from. Farmers at the market take pride in what they do and are happy to tell you what life looks for animals on their farm. Always be sure to ask them lots of questions before you make a purchase. Here are some examples of questions you might ask:
- “Does your farm have any animal welfare certifications?”
Look for farms certified by third-party certification programs like Animal Welfare Approved, Global Animal Partnership (GAP), Certified Humane or Certified Organic. Sometimes you can even find SPCA Certified farmers at markets in your community. If your favourite farms aren’t certified, encourage them to consider it.
- “Are animals raised indoors or outdoors on your farm?”
Ideally, animals should spend most of their lives on pasture or have daily access to the outdoors. If they’re raised indoors, make sure they are not raised in cages and ask if they are provided with enrichments (e.g. perches for egg-laying hens and rooting materials for pigs).
- “Do you dock tails (for cows or pigs) or debeak/beak trim (for egg-laying hens or turkeys)?”
When animals have enough space and enrichments, physical alterations like tail-docking and debeaking are generally unnecessary.
- “Do you use antibiotics?”
Antibiotics should be used responsibly. This means that their use should be limited to treating sick animals, and not administering antibiotics routinely to promote faster growth.
- “Can I visit your farm?”
Visit a vendor’s farm is one of the best ways you can ensure the animals are being raised to a standard that aligns with your personal values.
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