Cruelty laws can be enforced without jeopardizing farms

New proposals put forth as potential amendments to Canada’s animal cruelty laws could have serious implications for producers and the livestock industry.

Those who suggest removing animals from the property section of the Criminal Code and those who propose changing definitions for when neglect constitutes a prosecuting offence should not go unchallenged.

We are not talking about changes to laws that protect animals from purposeful abuse, such as those videotaped in a British Columbia dairy barn last year. Most people who handle livestock would have no issues with strong, reasonable national animal cruelty laws.

Presently, most livestock groups are governed by codes of practice, many of which have been adopted as laws on provincial levels.

While important, those standards do not replace the need for new national legislation, which can provide more widespread leadership and ensure equal welfare expectations across the country.

Two private members bills are now wending through Parliament. Although they stand little chance of success, they are adding to the debate and so cannot be ignored. Both contain phrasing that could help prevent producers from being unfairly harassed.

However, there is also wording in one of them, Bill C-610, that would make it an offence for “failing to provide suitable food, water, air, shelter and care.”

No intent, or wilful neglect, is mentioned. Any neglect is bad, of course, but this presents a problem.

Most animal neglect cases arise when other stress factors come into play. In cases where marital problems, financial difficulties or mental health issues are identified as root causes, a more deft touch is required. Heavier fines and jail time will have no effect.

What will help are programs to raise awareness and combat the stigma that surrounds mental health issues such as depression. Ready access to social support mechanisms is also key.

Properly funded livestock response units are also needed.

Humane societies have struggled to provide this service, but have lacked appropriate support. It requires a team steeped in farming traditions with the educational background and experience necessary to protect animals from unnecessary suffering, while also being sensitive to particular situations and accounting for generally accepted farming practices.

A separate proposal suggested by the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies is for animals to be moved out of the property section of the Criminal Code.

Clearly, animals are not property in the same way that a farm truck is. Or put another way, as animal behaviouralist Temple Grandin said in a 2002 paper, “there is a fundamental difference between cows and screwdrivers.”

She outlines a case for welfare protections based on nervous system and brain complexity. Basic life, such as viruses, bacteria, oysters and worms, are probably too primitive to suffer and so don’t require protection.

Animals at another level might feel pain and fear, while those possessing the most complex brains and nervous systems should have additional protections to ensure adequate socialization, interaction and an enriching environment.

This requires more research and clear standards but also an acceptance that animals are indeed property. We have the legal right to buy them, sell them, slaughter them and eat them.

However, we can still ensure their rights and proper care through laws and other protections.

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  • A.Outrage

    “This requires more research and clear standards but also an acceptance that animals are indeed property. We have the legal right to buy them, sell them, slaughter them and eat them.

    Here is where traditional speciesists (like animal farmers, transporters and processors) exist in a completely different and out-dated paradigm than animal rights advocates, of which I am one.

    Just because something is “legal”, doesn’t make it ethical or moral. To rely on the law to define our humanity or compassion as a species is deeply flawed — history has shown this time and time again. Slavery was “legal” for a very, very long time in the United States and many other jurisdictions around the world. Based on the logic contained in this article, a white slave master could have simply have rewritten the above quote as such: “This requires more research and clear standards but also an acceptance that black people are indeed property. We have the legal right to buy them and sell them”.

    You may think this is preposterous, after all, how dare I compare animals to humans? But this is the very crux of the issue. What is the morally relevant criteria that should govern how we treat other living, feeling beings? This article clearly emphasizes physiology, and more specifically, cognition (ie. brain complexity, nervous system, etc.) as the relevant metric.

    If this were valid and impervious to scrutiny, then cognitive research has shown that an adult dog has greater cognition than a human infant. And for that matter, a pig has greater cognitive ability than an adult dog — in other words, pigs are smarter than dogs. Based on the criteria advocated in this article we would be morally justified to treat human infants no differently than a pig AND keep them as “property”. But the “law” wouldn’t allow this because the law is not based on any consistent, moral or ethical parameters but rather a set of rules established by humans for the exclusive benefit of humans at the expense of all other species and even nature itself.

    The environmental, nutritional and moral justifications for using and treating non-human animals as a resource is no longer valid or sustainable morally or scientifically. But, as Steven M. Wise, a legal scholar and professor at Harvard Law School and head of the Non-Human Rights Project has said: “For four thousand years, a thick and impenetrable legal wall has separated all human from all nonhuman animals. On one side, even the most trivial interests of a single species — ours — are jealously guarded. We have assigned ourselves, alone among the million animal species, the status of “legal persons.” On the other side of that wall lies the legal refuse of an entire kingdom, not just chimpanzees and bonobos but also gorillas, orangutans, and monkeys, dogs, elephants, and dolphins. They are “legal things.” Their most basic and fundamental interests — their pains, their lives, their freedoms — are intentionally ignored, often maliciously trampled, and routinely abused. Ancient philosophers claimed that all nonhuman animals had been designed and placed on this earth just for human beings. Ancient jurists declared that law had been created just for human beings. Although philosophy and science have long since recanted, the law has not.”

    All of you here at The Producer, and all animal agriculturalists the world over are on the wrong side of history. Animal exploitation will end, one day. Why? Because like all injustices, they eventually come to light, they all eventually fail to endure rational, logical and moral scrutiny. In other words, the law will one day “recant” and the animals will be freed from human interventionism, brutality and selfishness and they will be welcomed into our circle of compassion. As such, you can choose to put down your captive bolt guns, your knives, your macerators, abandon your transport trucks, your gestation and veal crates and join us. But if you continue, and until then, you will be confronted and challenged at every turn, every opportunity and you will be publicly shamed. And you will have no one but yourselves to blame for this.


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