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Laws for farm animals

The laws and standards protecting farm animals are developed by the provincial and federal governments, as well as the National Farm Animal Care Council. We work to improve these laws and standards with your help to create a better life for farm animals.


National Farm Animal Care Council: Codes of Practice

The National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC) is the not-for-profit organization that coordinates development of the Codes of Practice for farm animals. The Codes of Practice are nationally developed guidelines for the care and handling of farm animals, and serve as our national understanding of animal care requirements and recommended practices.

NFACC assembles a committee of representatives from the farm industry, food retail industry, SPCAs and the veterinary community to write each code based on scientific research and public values. The BC SPCA partners with Humane Canada to represent the animal welfare movement on these committees.

Criminal Code of Canada

The Criminal Code of Canada has two sections related to animals: Section 444 – Animals and Section 445.1 – Cruelty to Animals.

Under the Criminal Code, it is an offence to:

  • Willfully cause or permit unnecessary pain, suffering or injury to an animal
  • Fail to provide reasonable care to an animal thereby causing it pain, suffering or injury
  • Abandon an animal in distress or willfully neglect or fail to provide suitable and adequate food, water, shelter and care

There are limitations to these laws that need to be improved in order to better protect animals:

  • No definition of unnecessary, reasonable, suitable or adequate
  • Difficulty in proving a willful act

Health of Animals Regulations

Laws about the transport of animals, found in Part XII of the Health of Animals Regulations, are made and enforced by the federal government. These laws do not account for the suffering animals experience during transport. With over 770 million animals transported each year, the investigation into cases of animal suffering is inadequate.

Pig looking out from inside a transport truck

The transport laws were originally written in 1977. An amendment to the legislation was released in February 2019, which came into force February 2020.

Before updating the laws, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) held a consultation period requesting public input on Canada’s laws for transport of animals, and the BC SPCA participated in the consultation. The CFIA then developed and released a ‘What We Heard‘ report based on the feedback received during the consultation period.

Some positive improvements to the legislation, based on the BC SPCA’s submission:

  • Animals that are high risk and need special care, such as those that are pregnant, injured or ill, are more clearly identified and better protected
  • There is a decrease in the length of time transported without food, water and rest for commonly farmed animal species such as cows, pigs and chickens
  • New guidelines for unacceptable handling methods have been outlined, including prohibitions on beating or kicking animals, or holding them by the wings or horns
  • There is a definition of overcrowding, which includes ensuring that animals are transported in their preferred position

There is still much room for improvement!

  • Producers can still use painful electric prods as a primary means of handling adult cows and pigs
  • There are no clear guidelines for maximum and minimum temperatures that limit when an animal can be transported
  • The amount of space each animal must have, called loading density, is not outlined
  • The transport times still exceed recommendations from a number of scientific reports, and are still longer than the maximum transport times allowed by our international trading partners

We hope these issues, and more, will be addressed by the upcoming update to the National Farm Animal Care Council’s Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Farm Animals: Transportation, which is scheduled to be finalized in Spring 2023. We submitted evidence-based recommendations (PDF) to protect farm animals and invited everyone to support our comments as well as submit their own. Over 2,500 people supported our submission.

We will be participating in the Code process, with our experts bringing scientific evidence of animal welfare issues to the table. Because you took action, important topics like overcrowding on trucks, handling, providing feed and water, length of trips and weather will be considered to help create this new Code.

Canadian Meat Inspection Act

Federal laws about the slaughter of animals, found in the Canadian Meat Inspection Act, requires that animals used for food be handled so that they do not experience “avoidable distress or avoidable pain.” The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is in charge of enforcing this law. The term “avoidable” can be subjective and is up to the judgement of authorities at the slaughter facility.

Two dairy cows outside on pasture


Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (PCA Act)

B.C.’s PCA Act is the provincial legislation that outlines required standards of care for animals. Under the PCA Act, it is an offence for a person responsible for an animal to cause/permit it to be in distress. An animal is in distress if it is:

  • Deprived of adequate food, water, shelter, ventilation, light, space, exercise, care or veterinary treatment
  • Kept in conditions that are unsanitary
  • Not protected from excessive heat or cold
  • Injured, sick, in pain or suffering
  • Abused or neglected

Causing distress to an animal is only legal if the person is using “generally accepted practices of animal management.” Canada’s Codes of Practice describe these generally accepted practices as they relate to farm animal production, so updating the Codes is an important step in raising the bar for farm animal welfare.

Meat Inspection Regulation

Provincial legislation in B.C. around animal slaughter can be found in the Meat Inspection Regulation.

The provincial Select Standing Committee on Agriculture, Fish and Food requested submission of suggestions to modify policies around local meat production in B.C., received by June 15, 2018. Review the BC SPCA submission (PDF). The Select Standing Committee produced a ‘what we heard’ report on October 1 with 21 recommendations for government action. Review these recommendations.

Take action

Higher standards with greater enforcement are needed to protect animals and give them a life worth living. We need your help to tell farmers and politicians that animal lives matter.

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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 farm animal welfare in Canada.