Canadian factory farming has had a tremendous impact on human health, the environment, animal welfare and rural communities, according to a report commissioned by the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPCA).
Claiming to be the first comprehensive Canadian examination of the impacts of industrial animal agriculture, the study aims to disclose the hidden costs of the sector for Canadian tax-payers, and to influence policy-making with a list of recommendations.
“The costs of this industrial system are substantial and growing and, like farm animals, they remain largely hidden. The result is a misleading picture of the true costs associated with the production and consumption of intensively produced meat, dairy and eggs. What consumers don’t pay for upfront, will be paid for later in terms of escalating health care costs, environmental remediation, and the cost of depleted water and energy resources.
“This food system was built on the false premise that inexpensive feed, cheap energy and free and abundant water would be available forever, but we now know these resources are limited and need to be conserved for ourselves and for future generations. (...) The ramifications are serious and deserve the attention of all levels of government in Canada. Governments need to act now to address the negative impacts of industrial animal agriculture through meaningful and forward thinking policy changes. The longer we wait, the more these problems will grow, and the harder it will become to find effective and sustainable solutions,” WSPCA said.
As part of the recommendations listed in the report, authors suggested improving food labelling to include the type of farming used to produce meat so consumers can make informed choices, prohibiting painful mutilations on animals without anaesthetic, and redirecting subsidies towards family farmers and more sustainable animal agriculture.
The report warned against antimicrobial resistance caused by the use of antibiotics as growth promoters on farms, and urged Canada to follow the EU’s example by banning it, a move that WSPCA said has been backed by the Canadian Medical Association and the American Medical Association. “The economic benefits farmers receive from using antibiotics are not always sufficient to offset the additional cost of the drugs. Society pays a hefty price too as the cost of drugs would nearly triple if resistance rises to endemic levels. Considering the length of time needed to develop new antibiotics, the pursuit of ‘cheap’ food, is not really worth the risk that life-saving antibiotics may fail,” it said.
Among other health concerns, the report pointed out the increase in food-borne illnesses in the past few years, which it linked to “the crowded and unsanitary conditions that many animals are raised in”, and the spread of animal viruses to humans. “Intensive livestock operations (ILOs) facilitate large-scale viral incubation and genetic reassortment that may lead to new varieties of influenza and initiate human flu pandemics,” one of the authors said.
The report also stressed the risk presented by the over-application of non-treated livestock waste as fertiliser, which it blamed for the death of seven people and infection of 2,300 in a small Ontario town in 2000 when their drinking water was contaminated with E.coli. “The increasing number and expansion of ILOs in close proximity to each other means that much of the manure produced needs to be transported longer distances for disposal. To cut down on transport costs, manure is often over-applied in local areas or illegally dumped in ditches and streams,” it said.
WSPCA noted the environmental impact of livestock farming, saying that livestock production occupies one-third of the earth’s arable land, “largely because of the land needed to grow animal feed”. It added that if two-thirds of the global population started eating meat at the Canadian rate (102 kg per capita), world meat consumption would nearly triple from current levels, and farnmland would need to more than double. “This necessarily implies that Canadian consumption levels are too high, and must come down,” the organisation added.
Finally, the organisation pointed out animal welfare issues, encouraging Canada to follow Europe and America’s examples by phasing out sow stalls, as well as veal crates and battery cages. It also suggested orientating genetic selection towards better welfare rather than better efficiency or leanness.