Showing good animal care important

Animal care issues in the Manitoba beef industry have been in the news lately, with a guilty plea entered in a court case stemming from incidents in 2011.

The details of the case are horrific, with more than 60 cattle dead from starvation and an almost equal number found close to death.

Manitoba Beef Producers deplores these actions. Those who abuse animals in this way should be subject to the full weight of the law. 

I never want to hear of any case of neglect or abuse of cattle. Unfortunately, these cases, while they are rare exceptions, have occurred and will occur. MBP will not attempt to defend or explain away animal abuse. When incidents happen, the chief veterinarian’s office should take every measure to ensure that animals are protected and that those involved are held accountable for their actions.

These rare cases are not a demonstration of how beef cattle are raised. Individual cases like this should not tarnish the industry’s strong reputation on animal care issues held by the vast majority of the 8,000 plus families raising beef cattle in Manitoba.

I don’t know any beef producer who would defend these actions. The beef producers I work with on a daily basis care deeply about the welfare of the animals under their care. In fact, most producers have chosen to raise cattle because of the care they have for animals.

The public does not often see the care and attention that cattle producers give, on a daily basis, to their animals. Media outlets don’t cover producers getting up at 4 a.m. in the middle of a blizzard to check their herd, or the efforts taken to help a calf that is born in the middle of a -40 C night. Unfortunately, most members of the public only get exposure to beef production when the media covers unacceptable incidents that end up in court.

Beef producers need to communicate with the public to ensure that everyone understands that the court cases are rare exceptions that do not exemplify beef production in Manitoba.

This is a key reason why the industry has developed a Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Beef Cattle. It is an important tool for ex-plaining our animal care practices to the public and policy-makers and demonstrating our practices to customers and trading partners.

The beef Code of Practice has recently been modernized through the National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC). A revised code was released Sept. 6. The NFACC beef code development committee includes beef producers, governments, scientists, veterinarians, animal welfare enforcement groups such as SPCAs, the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies and our customers, such as restaurants and retail food distributors.

Some people may think that this broad representation on the committee is odd. Why are restaurants, retail distributors, SPCAs and the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies all around the table when the industry is codifying the correct and humane way to raise cattle?

They are there because it is critical to the beef industry that civil society and our customers accept and agree with the final outcome.

And they have agreed. The revised code represents a consensus of these diverse groups. The process for revising the code was open and transparent with 400 individuals and organizations providing feedback on the earlier draft versions of the document. This of course includes MBP — we made our own submissions on behalf of the province’s beef producers.

The beef industry may have previously shied away from talking about animal care issues and how producers raise their cattle. We cannot do that anymore because the public — our customers — are increasingly interested in knowing how cattle are raised.

More people are asking the question: “Where does my food come from?” We need to provide clear answers to this question.

Cam Dahl is general manager of Manitoba Beef Producers.

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