Each year, tens of thousands of farm animals die in barn fires across Canada.
It doesn’t take long for a smoldering fire to erupt into a blazing inferno. Most barns are packed full of possible fuel sources, from large quantities of hay, straw or chemicals to the buildings themselves.
Yet, many of the simplest protection and prevention techniques recommended by farm and fire experts across the globe are not currently standard farm practice. In provinces like Ontario and Manitoba, fire codes do not require barns that are housing animals to have fire detection systems like smoke alarms and heat detectors, or fire suppression systems like sprinklers.
As the farming industry grows and farms become more automated, fewer humans are required to be on site for day-to-day operations, thus classifying these barns as "low human occupancy". Under codes like this, animal barns are classified the same as storage lockers, and livestock are considered stored goods.
Evacuating animals from burning structures is often impossible once a barn fire has started, and animals suffer greatly before they die, both physically and psychologically. Planning, training and preparing for barn fires is the most reliable, humane and cost-effective approach to barn fire safety.
A good fire safety and evacuation plan can help prevent tragedy, speed up response times and protect human and animal safety. Up-to-date emergency procedures can reduce risks to both farm employees and animals and greatly improve response times in an emergency. These tragedies don't need to happen. Precautionary measures prevent the majority of fires and help to control fires if they do happen.
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Here are 12 key barn fire prevention tips for Canadian farms:
- Host an open house for emergency services personnel in your area to familiarize them with the layout of your property
- Undergo a thorough check of every barn with a fire safety officer
- Schedule regular fire safety inspections – at least once a year
- Make a fire safety plan, train all owners and employees in executing the plan and post an outline of the plan in high-traffic areas throughout each barn
- Conduct fire drills with all employees and all animals so that everyone knows what to do in case of fire
- Install one 10-pound fire extinguisher at every exit and additional extinguishers at 50-foot intervals throughout the barn
- Store all flammable materials separate from animal living quarters, including fuel, hay, used bedding and motorized equipment
- Remove cobwebs at least once weekly
- Ensure that at least one fire safety point person is scheduled at all times – someone who is well-versed in the emergency plan and would feel comfortable taking action should a fire start
- Ensure that the farm name is prominently displayed by the road, making it easy for emergency responders to identify the correct site and arrive in a timely manner
- Have wiring checked periodically for fraying, wear or rodent damage
- Ensure every light bulb and heat lamp in the barn is covered with wire guards and is placed several feet away from any flammable materials
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Most Canadians would be shocked to know what’s legal when it comes to the transport of animals in this country. That’s because Canada's outdated transportation regulations set a dangerously low bar, causing the deaths of more than 1.6 million farm animals each year by freezing, dehydration, heat exhaustion, trampling and disease.
But that’s only part of the story. Thanks to a recent access to information request, we know that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), the government body charged with farm animal transportation oversight, is ignoring its own analysis of what is required to improve our outdated transportation regulations. In a regulatory analysis document published by the government in the Canada Gazette, the CFIA proposed amendments to the transportation regulations that would provide "clear, science-based expectations, which in turn would lead to improved animal welfare and a reduced risk of animal suffering during transportation."
Recently released internal documents show that the CFIA revised its original recommendations for significantly reduced animal transport times, giving greater weight to industry lobbying than to scientific evidence. The CFIA documents show that the agency appears to have prioritized concerns about industry profitability over what science says about the needs of the more than 700 million farm animals being transported on Canadian roads each year.
This kind of undue influence over the regulatory process cannot be accepted. Our elected representatives must ensure that the CFIA maintains the integrity of what was supposed to be a science-driven rather than industry-driven process, and bases its recommendations on the body of scientific evidence that calls for the shortest possible transport times for animals.
Animal welfare experts were heartened when Parliament decided to conduct hearings into the proposed transportation regulations before the House of Commons Agriculture Committee in April. Humane Canada testified before the Committee about the many benefits of cutting down on animal transport times, like reduced environmental impact, better health outcomes for workers and animals, and improved food safety.
Benefits aside, as we wait for the Agriculture Committee’s report, it's worth revisiting the original basis for reviewing the animal transport regulations. In the government’s own public notice, you will see the following acknowledgment of how dire the situation is:
"The current provisions of the Health of Animals Regulations dealing with the transportation of animals do not reflect current science regarding the care and handling of animals, do not align with the standards of Canada’s international trading partners, and are not aligned with the World Organisation for Animal Health welfare standards for animals transported by land, air and sea. This leads to a continuing risk that animals will suffer during transportation."
This "continuing risk" has, in fact, been a continuing reality for the more than 1.6 million farm animals that die each year because of weak transport regulations that do not protect them.
The European Food Safety Authority’s Scientific Opinion Concerning the Welfare of Animals during Transport says that journeys should not exceed 12 hours for horses and 29 hours for cattle. In Canada, current transport times are respectively 36 hours and 52 hours for these animals. In the EU, transport times for most live animals are limited to 8 hours and can only be further extended if food, water and rest are provided.
We need a fundamental shift when it comes to the transportation of farm animals – to think of animals not as freight or a financial investment, but as living, breathing creatures who have the capacity to feel pain and fear. Transportation is the most alien and stressful experience that a farm animal will have in its lifetime. The longer and harder this experience is, the more risk there is of stress-induced illness, injury and death.
These animals deserve more. Just because they are headed to slaughter does not mean we should allow them to suffer while they are still alive. This is why we must protect the integrity of a process that places reasonable limits on industry – ensuring that the regulations that govern the transportation of animals are well-informed, science-driven and not a product of bowing to industry pressure.
Learn more about the realities of farming in Canada here.
Learn more about the current state of animal transportation in Canada here.
Consumers in Canada and around the world continue to demand humane animal products, pressuring retailers, food suppliers and producers to make changes to farming practices in their supply chains.
As consumers continue to educate themselves on the realities of farming in Canada, consumer attitudes towards the treatment of pigs and laying hens in particular have changed dramatically. This has more and more retailers, suppliers and producers from across the globe making commitments to phase out cruel farming practices such as the use of gestational and farrowing crates for pigs and the use of cruel battery cages for hens.
It is an important part of our work at Humane Canada™, also known as the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, to alert consumers about which retailers, suppliers and producers have made commitments to animal welfare so that they may choose products that reflect their own ethics about the treatment of farm animals.
Vote for improved animal welfare with your consumer dollars! Download Humane Canada's™ list of the commitments that have been made by retailers, suppliers and producers around the world to phase out gestation stalls for sows and shift to cage-free housing for layer hens. This chart is updated on a regular basis to reflect new or changing commitments to animal welfare.
Farming practices in Canada have changed dramatically over the last 50 to 60 years. The number of small family farms has significantly declined, and larger intensive factory farms have become the norm for food production in the 21st century. Facilities that increased mechanization and confinement were introduced to reduce labour costs and address some animal health issues. Unfortunately, these housing systems resulted in new animal welfare issues, including the restriction of the natural behaviours of animals due to confinement and overcrowding.
Every year, more than 700 million animals are slaughtered for food in Canada, most of them chickens. The majority of Canadians assume that the government ensures the humane treatment of farm animals and are shocked to discover the lack of farm monitoring across the country. Canada has no regulations stipulating how animals should be treated on farms outside of federal and provincial animal cruelty laws, and these are only used to prosecute livestock farmers in cases of egregious abuse, such as when animals are neglected to the point of starvation or farm workers are caught torturing animals.
Once animals leave the farm, the conditions are no better. Current transportation regulations allow animals to be transported for up to 52 hours without food, water or rest, and trucks are poorly equipped to protect the animals from extreme heat or cold and do little to otherwise protect them from the elements.
Slaughter is another area of concern. Animals may be handled roughly as they are led to slaughter, causing significant stress and fear, as well as injuries. Some animals are improperly "stunned" (i.e.: not fully rendered unconscious) before they are killed, resulting in them being killed while conscious - causing them tremendous pain and suffering.
For both the transportation and slaughter of animals, Canada’s regulations are weak, but just as serious is the lack of enforcement of the existing regulations. News reports in recent years have revealed shocking deficiencies in enforcement of animal welfare and even food safety regulations. It is clear that funding to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency for animal welfare enforcement must be substantially increased to ensure federal regulations are being enforced consistently and effectively.
Farming, transport and slaughter practices in Canada have fallen further and further behind other jurisdictions, such as Australia, New Zealand and the European Union, where public demand for progressive policies and legislation for farm animal welfare has pushed these governments to implement progressive change for animals.
Fortunately, the federal government is now funding the development of new Codes of Practice for the Care and Handling of Farm Animals, which allows us to make improvements to animal welfare with direct buy-in from the farming industry. Coordinated by the National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC), these codes outline acceptable standards of care for farm animals across Canada and serve as reference documents for provincial animal cruelty laws.
As a founder of the codes of practice, Humane Canada™ is the only animal welfare organization that sits on each and every code development committee, advocating for science-based improvements to animal welfare practices on farms across Canada.
There was a time when the family farm was the predominant supplier of meat, eggs and dairy products across Canada. But times have changed, and the family farm model has mostly been replaced by intensive farming practices on large factory farms. With it, the treatment of animals has changed – and not for the better. As recently as a decade ago, few governments around the world had regulations or standards to ensure even a minimum standard of humane treatment for farm animals.
In 1994, the Royal SPCA in the United Kingdom took the initiative to introduce a farm animal welfare certification and labeling program called Freedom Food. The Freedom Food program established welfare standards that required food producers certified under the program to raise their animals in a manner consistent with the animal welfare principles of the Five Freedoms.
Since then, there has been an enormous growth in consumer demand for assurance that the meat, eggs and dairy products consumers are buying come from producers who treat their animals humanely. Various humane food certification programs now exist across North America and Europe, along with the use of labels such as cage-free, free run and free range on animal food products.
Certification in Canada
In Canada, we have the following food certification programs, which all address farm animal welfare issues:
In the late 1990s, the BC SPCA decided it was time to introduce an animal welfare certification program to British Columbia and, in 2002, the program was officially launched.
It was developed with the goal of supporting change to animal welfare in BC through the use of scientific research and with the incorporation of third party audits for the agricultural industry. Standards are more stringent than those in Canada’s codes of practice for industry and are based on the principles of the Five Freedoms for animals: freedom from hunger and thirst; freedom from distress; freedom from discomfort; freedom from pain, injury and disease; and freedom to express behaviours that promote well-being.
To meet the standards, farmers:
Must not use crowded, confinement housing (i.e.: battery cages, gestation stalls, veal calf crates). Further, these farmers must provide enrichment to their animals’ environments and they ensure painful practices are minimized or eliminated.
SPCA Certified farmers ensure that:
- Egg-laying hens are free from cages
- Pregnant pigs are free from confinement in gestation stalls and farrowing crates
- Painful practices like dehorning, mulesing (sheep) and toe clipping (poultry) are prohibited
- Pain medication is used for necessary farming practices that cause pain
- Animal environments are designed to promote comfort, positive natural behaviours and healthy social interactions
- Animals are not fed antibiotics or hormones for growth enhancement
- Sick and injured animals receive immediate medical attention and follow up
- Lameness (inability to walk properly) in farm animals is assessed and immediately addressed
The program is voluntary and producers must apply, after which they are inspected and approved if they meet the SPCA Certified standards. For more information on SPCA Certified, go here.
In Canada, organic farmers are certified according to a single set of national standards – the Canadian Organic Standards. The standards for animal care are quite similar to the SPCA Certified standards, including:
- Prohibition on battery cages for hens, tie stalls for cows and gestation/farrowing stalls for sows
- Minimum space requirements that far exceed industry standards
- Requirements for nest boxes, perches, bedding and/or rooting material
- Prohibition on tail docking of dairy cows
- Outdoor access required for all animals
- Prohibition on forced moulting of poultry
Since 2009, federal organic standards have been backed by government regulation and oversight. For more information on organic certification, go here.
Unverified labels: free range, free run, cage free, grass fed…
In addition to the certification programs described above, there are various terms used on food packaging that are meant to address animal welfare concerns. For instance, the following two terms are commonly seen on egg cartons:
Free Run: hens are kept in open barns, uncaged, with no access to the outdoors
Free Range: hens are kept in open barns, uncaged, with regular access to the outdoors
It is important to note that hens raised in either of these cage-free systems may still be kept in very crowded conditions inside the barn, though that will soon be changing due to the creation of Canada's first cage-free standards for the egg industry, which were finalized and released in 2017. Note that, in Canada, there is no independent inspection or verification to ensure that producers using these labels are in fact raising their animals in the method indicated.
In order to be sure that egg or poultry products come from cage-free chickens, consumers in Canada should always look for certified organic, SPCA certified or Certified Local Sustainable labels. Producers certified to meet these standards have been inspected to make sure their chickens are kept in free-range or free-run conditions, and also that they are given a minimum space allowance far higher than the industry norm.
The same goes for terms like grass fed, nest laid or pasture raised and so on. Producers who use these labels on their products have not been inspected to make sure they’re raising their animals in the method indicated, unless they are also certified under a program that audits and inspects to verify compliance.
How does certification work?
Farm animal welfare certification is a method of assuring consumers that the animals used to produce their meat, dairy and egg products were raised according to standards that are more humane than normal industry practices. Farmers voluntarily apply to be certified and inspections are carried out to verify animal welfare practices on the farm. Once the farms are a part of the program, they are entitled to use a logo on their product packaging to identify them as certified under that labeling system.
The label assures that animals have been raised according to the standards established by the certifying organization. While these standards vary from one certification program to the next, they usually include a prohibition on using pharmaceuticals or hormones to promote growth or production, a prohibition on using cages or stalls that dramatically restrict movement (such as battery cages for hens, tie stalls for cattle or gestation stalls for pigs) and housing that allows animals to express natural behaviours that are required for their well-being (i.e.: nest building, foraging, rooting).