Cuts to animal welfare research will hurt, say livestock officials

Agriculture Canada cuts announced last month that targeted research staff were a serious blow to animal welfare research, say poultry industry officials.

Across the livestock and poultry sectors, producers are facing increasing consumer and retail pressure to prove that their rearing, housing and slaughter practices are humane.

Industry and government have been funding research to develop humane codes of practice and evidence of best ways forward.

Last month, those efforts had a setback with Agriculture Canada cutbacks that closed down departmental poultry research, witnesses told the House of Commons agriculture committee last week.

K. Robin Horel, president of the Canadian Poultry and Egg Processors Council, said it has been responding to consumer concerns in part by funding the Poultry Welfare Centre at the University of Guelph.

“The recent announcement of (Agriculture Canada) staff changes and the cessation of AAFC poultry research will have a negative impact on poultry research in Canada generally and on the future of the Poultry Welfare Centre specifically,” he said.

He said members of the Canadian Poultry Research Council wrote a letter of concern to agriculture minister Gerry Ritz. Horel did not make it public.

National Farm Animal Care Council chair and former Canadian Pork Council president Edouard Asnong reinforced the point.

“Science informs our deliberations at NFACC,” he told MPs. “We are concerned about recently announced cuts to agriculture and agri-food research, particularly in the area of animal welfare. Research and the resulting tech transfer are critical for the ongoing development of animal welfare initiatives in Canada.”

Later, Guelph professor and Egg Farmers of Canada research chair in poultry welfare Tina Widowski said that while the animal welfare concern issue is “at an all-time high in Canada,” the recent government science cuts undermine the work.

“The recent cut in AAFC has resulted in the loss of some of Canada’s top animal welfare scientists, both very established scientists and those that are up and coming,” she told committee. “They’ve contributed significantly to policy development and this at a time when there is an increasing demand for science-based animal welfare standards.”

She said development of science-based rules on animal treatment, drug use and housing practices that are acceptable to processors, retailers and consumers are key for the industry.

“It’s critical that research, industry and animal welfare policy continue to be supported at both the provincial and federal levels to keep Canadian producers competitive,” said Widowski.

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