ABBOTSFORD—National animal law organization Animal Justice is calling for urgent action to cap the number of animals that can be kept on farms. Limiting farm sizes will help ensure that all animals can realistically be evacuated in the face of emergencies such as the catastrophic flooding in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia.
The flooding has proven deadly to farmed animals. The Fraser Valley has a high concentration of large, industrial farms that confine tens of thousands of animals inside dark, windowless warehouses. According to the BC Chicken Marketing Board, the average meat chicken farm holds 50,000 birds. Hundreds of thousands of farmed animals, including chickens, dairy cows, and veal calves, have likely died from drowning and hypothermia.
There is no current limit on the number of animals that can be housed on farms in Canada, and no regulations setting out welfare standards for farmed animals, or requiring an evacuation plan during a disaster. This leaves animals uniquely vulnerable to being left behind to suffer during emergencies, including floods, heat dome events, and barn fires. Although there have been some evacuation attempts of larger animals like dairy cows, private insurance and government disaster subsidy programs often cover financial losses that farmers incur from leaving the animals to die.
“Warehousing large numbers of animals inside factory farms is a recipe for mass suffering during a weather emergency,” said lawyer Camille Labchuk, executive director of Animal Justice. “There’s no realistic way to evacuate tens of thousands of chickens from a flooded barn. Farm sizes should be limited to the number of animals that can be evacuated, and emergency rescue plans should be a legal requirement.”
Climate change is contributing to more extreme weather events, which are often particularly threatening to vulnerable farmed animals. Documents obtained by Animal Justice show that at least 651,000 chickens and other birds died on farms during the British Columbia heat dome event earlier in the year when farms failed to ensure that cooling systems could keep pace with the extreme heat.
“Not only do factory farms confine animals in appalling conditions, but farming animals for food is a major contributor to climate change,” said Ms. Labchuk. “It is heartbreaking that these animals are also uniquely vulnerable to becoming the victims of climate change and extreme weather events.
“The recent disasters in British Columbia prove that our food system needs transformation, with a shift toward plant-based agriculture which is humane, climate-friendly, and less vulnerable to the impacts of weather disasters.”
Animal Justice and other animal protection groups have long been calling for government oversight of animal welfare on farms for years. Shortly before the floods, Animal Justice released secretly-recorded footage from inside Cedar Valley Farms, an organic dairy farm in Abbotsford, which showed workers beating cows with canes, wrenches, and pitchforks; baby calves ripped away from their mothers; and cows limping with painful injuries. The footage reignited calls for legal reform, including video surveillance systems in barns that stream directly to the internet. The BC SPCA is investigating Cedar Valley, and has stated that it intends to recommend animal cruelty charges.
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