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Position Statement on Farm Animal Welfare

The BC SPCA supports only those farming practices that aim to provide good welfare for the animals raised while acknowledging it is not possible to prevent farm animals from experiencing all pain or discomfort in their lives. The BC SPCA believes that both the physical and psychological health of farm animals contribute to their welfare, which is synonymous with their quality of life.

To provide good welfare, the BC SPCA strongly encourages farmers to strive to meet the Five Freedoms by employing management practices and housing systems that address both the physical and psychological needs of the animals. In particular, the BC SPCA supports the reduction of farming practices that cause pain, injury or negative emotions (e.g., fear, anxiety, frustration) due to stress and supports replacement of such practices with ones that minimize or eliminate these negative effects. Further, the BC SPCA supports the implementation of practices that provide farm animals with opportunities to express behaviours that promote well-being (e.g., dust bathing, nest building, grazing).

The BC SPCA also supports the mandatory labelling of animal-derived food products with accurate claims about the methods of production used in order to enable consumers to make informed purchasing decisions.

Approved by the Board of Directors – August 2018
(replaces previous version, September 2007)

Background

Animal welfare is considered to be good when animals 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 like pain, discomfort, hunger, thirst, fear and frustration. Pleasurable activities and behavioural needs include the ability to express positive natural behaviours like grazing, foraging, self-grooming, play and socializing with animals of their own kind.

In accordance with our position statement on Farm Animal Welfare, the BC SPCA has concerns about the following types of practices in animal agriculture:

  • Housing any animal in an environment likely to cause pain, injury, reduced health or prolonged discomfort, thus compromising welfare
  • Housing any animal in an environment that does not permit expression of strongly motivated behaviours that promote well-being, such as perching and dust bathing behaviour among poultry, nest building behaviour among pregnant sows and grazing behaviour among ruminant animals like cattle and sheep
  • Breeding animals to accentuate certain physical characteristics when the outcome compromises animal welfare
  • Use of pharmaceutical drugs for non-therapeutic treatment or to support husbandry systems that compromise animal health
  • Conducting painful surgical procedures without the use of sedation, anaesthetic or post-operative analgesic, or by using electro-immobilization alone, which does not prevent animals from experiencing pain, stress or fear
  • Stressful or painful animal handling methods
  • Feeding diets that are inappropriate for the species or stage of production, or that compromise animal welfare
  • Feeding diets containing avian or mammalian byproducts to the same animal type
  • Extended periods of feed and/or water withdrawal, such as before and during transport, in holding or to elicit specific production responses
  • Transportation of animals for long durations, in crowded conditions or under extreme weather conditions, especially when the animals are too young, nursing, heavily lactating, sick, injured or otherwise at risk of pain, injury, suffering or death
  • Subjecting animals to noisy, unfamiliar environments leading to stress, fear or increased risk of injury or disease
  • Inhumane killing or slaughter, as defined in the BC SPCA position statement on Humane Killing

It therefore follows that specific industry practices to which the BC SPCA is opposed include (but are not limited to):

  • Confining egg-laying hens in cages
  • Raising veal calves individually or in crates that restrict freedom of movement
  • Keeping dairy cows continuously tethered (tied up) in stalls without daily exercise periods
  • Keeping pigs tethered or in crates/stalls for the duration of the breeding, gestation and/or farrowing (birthing) periods
  • Housing animals under high stocking densities
  • Housing animals on hard or bare flooring (without bedding) or in pens or on floors with  potentially injurious protrusions
  • Housing animals in facilities with poor ventilation, inadequate temperature control, extended periods of insufficient lighting or poor sanitation
  • Use of pharmaceutical drugs (e.g., antibiotics) to improve some aspect of performance, such as growth or feed efficiency
  • Administration of pharmaceutical drugs to healthy animals as a non-therapeutic, preventative treatment in order to counterbalance the effects of husbandry systems that pose health challenges (e.g., high stocking densities). Although preventative, the appropriate use of vaccines and parasite control is considered therapeutic and is therefore acceptable.
  • Performing surgeries such as disbudding, dehorning, tail docking and castration without the use of a sedative, anaesthetic or post-operative analgesic, or by using electro-immobilization alone to restrain animals during these procedures
  • Inappropriate methods for moving, restraining, holding or carrying animals, such as the use of electric prods, striking animals and holding or carrying animals upside down for extended periods of time
  • Forced moulting of poultry
  • Forced feeding of waterfowl (e.g., for the production of foie gras)
  • Sale of animals through live auctions
  • Display of animals at exhibitions and petting zoos where the Five Freedoms are not being met (Note: 4H clubs and petting zoos providing the Five Freedoms and that do not use auction houses / sale barns for transfer of ownership, are acceptable)
  • The raising and breeding of wild animals, whether native or exotic, due to the difficulty in meeting the behavioural needs of these animals in captivity as well as the stress and risk of injury imposed by subjecting them to routine farm animal husbandry practices and transportation (e.g., raising of farmed ostrich, emu, zebras, kangaroos, elk, deer)

In partnership with Humane Canada (formerly known as the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, or CFHS), the BC SPCA participates in the National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC) process for developing Codes of Practice for the care and handling of farm animals. Code content is determined by consensus of key industry stakeholders such as farmers, transporters, processors, veterinarians, animal welfare scientists, the food retail and service industry and representatives from the humane movement.

Code ‘requirements’ define acceptable and unacceptable farming practices and are used in animal protection law enforcement in Canada. Code ‘recommendations’ encourage adoption of practices for continuous improvement of animal welfare but are not enforceable by law. BC SPCA participation in the NFACC Code process serves to advance Canadian standards for farm animals towards the Five Freedoms.

The BC SPCA and Humane Canada support the NFACC Codes as minimum obligations for farm animal care in Canada; however, this consensus agreement does not equate to unanimous endorsement of every aspect of each Code. In many instances, the BC SPCA and Humane Canada believe that farmers should meet higher standards than those required by the Codes. Such higher standards are described in the SPCA Certified program standards for the raising and handling of farm animals, which are fully endorsed by the BC SPCA and Humane Canada.

See also:
Animals in Recreation, Sport and Entertainment
Animals Used for Clothing, Fashion and Art
Equine Welfare
Farm Animals in Rodeo and Other Entertainment
Humane Killing

Background updated – August 2018

Definitions

Anaesthesia: Temporary insensitivity to pain or loss of consciousness, especially as artificially induced by administration of gases or injectable drugs (called ‘anaesthetics’).

Analgesia: The inability to feel pain, without the loss of consciousness, especially as artificially induced by administration of gases or injectable drugs (called ‘analgesics’).

Animal husbandry: The practice of raising animals for food production. Animal husbandry generally refers to practices that aim to meet the basic physiological needs required for food production.

Anxiety: A negative emotion experienced in response to a perceived potential threat. Animals experience anxiety most often in new and unfamiliar situations and respond by heightening their vigilance in order to assess the potential for danger. The posture of an anxious animal varies by species. Anxiety differs from fear in that it is anticipatory, and may or may not have an identifiable stimulus.

Crate: A common type of confinement housing for individual animals that restricts the animal’s movement. Typically, the animal can lie down, sit, stand up and take short steps forward or backward, but cannot turn around or roll over. Syn: Stall.

Distress: A severe negative affective state caused by physical and/or psychological factors. Physical distress may arise when an animal is hungry, thirsty, too hot, too cold, diseased, injured or in pain to an elevated degree. Psychological distress may arise when an animal experiences fear, anxiety, frustration or depression to an elevated degree.

When used in a legal context¹ by animal protection officers and veterinarians:

“An animal is in distress if it is:
(a)   Deprived of adequate food, water, shelter, ventilation, light, space, exercise, care or veterinary treatment
(a.1)  Kept in conditions that are unsanitary
(a.2)  Not protected from excessive heat or cold
(b)   Injured, sick, in pain or suffering, or
(c)    Abused or neglected”

¹ Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act [RSBC 1996] CHAPTER 372 (Section 12:1)

Domesticated animals: Species that have been selectively bred by humans over hundreds or thousands of generations in order to alter their genetics to create animals who are dependant, docile, predictable and controllable, and who no longer occupy an ecological niche in the wild.

Electro-immobilization: The use of a small current of electricity passed through the body of an animal to paralyze the muscles and hold the animal still. While immobilized, the animal is conscious, aware and can feel pain, but cannot vocalize or struggle.

Emotions: Positive or negative feelings (e.g., happiness, fear, anxiety) that are distinct from sensations (e.g., warmth, hunger, pain). Animals experience emotions in response to stimuli from their environment. Emotions exist in order to help animals avoid harm or seek better welfare by triggering appropriate behaviours.

Exotic animals: Species that are non-domesticated, non-indigenous wild animals, whether captured from the wild or captive-bred.

Farm animals: Domesticated animals (with the exception of farmed mink and foxes) intentionally reared for food, fibre, labour or other profitable means for humans. This term does not include animals bred or raised commercially for companionship or research.

Fear: A negative emotion experienced in response to a perceived real and immediate threat, usually accompanied by a physiological stress response. Unlike anxiety, fear always has an identifiable stimulus.

Five Freedoms: A concept first developed in 1965 by the Brambell Committee, formed by the UK government to examine the conditions on commercial farms. Now internationally recognized, the Five Freedoms are considered applicable to all animals.

The BC SPCA’s Five Freedoms (adapted from the original list) are:

  1. Freedom from hunger and thirst
  2. Freedom from pain, injury and disease
  3. Freedom from distress
  4. Freedom from discomfort
  5. Freedom to express behaviours that promote well-being

The Five Freedoms form the basis of the BC SPCA’s Charter and describe conditions that must be fulfilled in order to prevent the suffering of all animals in human care. The BC SPCA acknowledges that these freedoms are not enforceable and that absolute provision of these freedoms may not be possible, but strongly encourages all animal guardians to strive to provide them.

Foie gras: A French term (pronounced “fwah-grah”) for the enlarged, fatty liver of ducks and geese achieved by inserting a feeding tube down the throat and force-feeding the bird a diet of mashed corn and fat.

Forced moulting: The practice of withholding food from poultry, most commonly egg-laying hens, for several days. This causes the hens to lose their feathers and roughly 30 percent of their body weight, and they stop laying eggs. Forced moulting is typically carried out near the end of a laying cycle once egg production has already begun to decline naturally. When food is restored after the moult period, it initiates a renewed period of egg laying and egg quality is improved.

Frustration: A negative emotion experienced when an animal is prevented from engaging in a behaviour that he/she is motivated to perform.

Non-therapeutic treatment: The use of pharmaceutical drugs on healthy animals without the intention of treating disease. Treatment is typically administered to improve some aspect of performance, such as growth or feed efficiency.

Physical health: The status of an animal’s physiological function. Good physical health is characterized by the absence of clinical signs of disease and evidence of optimum body functions for all systems.

Psychological health: A state of psychological or emotional well-being. Emotional health is the preferred term of the BC SPCA.

Quality of life: Syn: Welfare.

Stall: Syn: Crate.

Stress: The physiological response to a stimulus in order to help an animal cope with his/her environment. The stress response can be associated with either positive emotions (e.g., excitement, arousal) or negative emotions (e.g., anxiety, frustration), depending upon the nature of the stimulus or the animal’s perception of that stimulus. Chronic stress is detrimental to an animal’s health and welfare.

Welfare: An animal’s quality of life. An animal’s welfare depends upon both his/her physical health and affective state. 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 (e.g., pain, discomfort, hunger, thirst, fear, frustration).

Well-being: Generally used to denote good welfare.

Wild animals: Species that have not been domesticated. Wild animals have evolved in complex ecosystems resulting in mutual interdependencies with other animals and the surrounding environment. Wild animals may be exotic or indigenous, and wild-born or captive-bred.