Canada’s Farmed Animal Welfare Progress In 2022
According to recent studies, Canadians are increasingly becoming more concerned about animal welfare and the transparency of their food systems. Likewise, a study from 2021 shows that as many as two-thirds of investors in Canada care about the environmental, social, and governance aspects of the companies they support.
Unfortunately, the authors of this report argue that Canada lags behind many other countries when it comes to farmed animal welfare. For example, Canada has no federal protections for farmed animals. The only welfare regulations come from the National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC), whose members largely include farming industry groups. Needless to say, the NFACC has failed to implement important welfare standards such as banning cage systems on egg farms.
To hold Canadian food companies accountable, Mercy for Animals (MFA) created the annual “Canada Animal Welfare Scorecard” in 2021. It reveals who is keeping their promises when it comes to farmed animal welfare and who needs improvement. The scorecard tracks three key welfare issues: “broiler” chicken housing, breed selection, and slaughter; cage systems for egg-laying hens; and gestation crates used for pregnant pigs.
The 2022 scorecard includes public animal welfare data from 55 prominent food retailers, restaurants, and food service providers, an increase from around 40 companies included in 2021. MFA assessed each company and looked at publicly-available animal welfare information, including new policies and progress on existing policies. Companies were also given an opportunity to respond with evidence of their welfare improvements.
Some of the top companies leading the way with animal welfare standards in Canada are Whole Foods, Chipotle, Starbucks, Campbell’s, Ikea, Panago Pizza, Starbucks, Unilever, A&W Canada, and Pita Pit. These companies were given the highest “gold tier” rating by MFA. Whole Foods was the only company to receive a perfect score of 300, with 100 points awarded for each animal welfare issue discussed in the report.
In the sixth and lowest tier were Calgary Co-Op, Domino’s Pizza, Federated Co-Operatives, Mary Brown’s, and Moxie’s. Each of these companies was given a welfare score of 0 out of 300.
Despite the mixed results, the authors claim there has been notable advancement in the reported progress of Canadian animal welfare policies this year. 51% of the animal welfare policies have reported progress since 2021, which is more than the progress reported last year. The authors believe this is a good sign that companies are taking the rising public concern for transparency seriously.
Chicken Industry Insights
90% of land animals killed for food in Canada each year are chickens, which means their welfare standards are extremely important. Unfortunately, the report points out that chickens in the meat industry often face overcrowding, disease, high stress, and cruel and inhumane slaughter methods.
The authors argue that the “Better Chicken Commitment” (BCC) can make a significant difference in the lives of chickens raised for food. The BCC outlines minimum welfare standards for chickens in the meat industry, including housing, stocking density, and slaughter method. Globally, 550 companies have committed to the BCC including 50 companies in Canada.
Of the 55 companies featured in MFA’s scorecard, 17 of them have committed to the full BCC. An additional six companies committed to at least one of the BCC’s standards. Unfortunately, only eight companies reported progress towards at least one standard of the BCC from 2021 to 2022.
MFA claims that Whole Foods, Ikea, Panago, and Unilever are at the forefront of leadership when it comes to chicken welfare in the meat industry. Metro became the first major Canadian food retailer to publicly acknowledge the BCC’s standards; it reported that over 99% of its chickens were sourced from farms that meet the NFACC’s minimum stocking density, while 62% of its sourced chickens were slaughtered using controlled atmosphere stunning.
Egg Industry Insights
83% of hens raised for egg farming in Canada are kept in cage systems. Despite the overwhelming evidence that cages prevent hens from engaging in natural behaviors, MFA points out that the Canadian egg industry continues to avoid cage-free systems. Instead, it’s largely moved towards a concept known as “enriched” cages, which continue to subject hens to life in cramped wire enclosures.
44 companies in the scorecard had cage-free policies, while five had partial cage-free policies. Of these, 27 companies reported progress in sourcing cage-free eggs since 2021. Although it wasn’t included in the rankings, MFA spotlighted McCain Foods for sourcing 93% of its eggs from cage-free sources, up from 52% last year. The authors also point out that the well-known Canadian brand Tim Hortons did not report any progress toward its cage-free commitment for the second year in a row.
Pig Meat Industry Insights
Each year, around 1.2 million pigs are housed in gestation crates in Canada. Unfortunately, the Canadian pig meat industry recently proposed a five-year extension of its deadline to transition away from the crate system.
This lack of progress was reflected in MFA’s scorecard. Only 12 companies reported their crate-free conversion rate in 2022. However, A&W Canada reported an 87% crate-free supply chain, up from 70% last year. Metro became the first major Canadian retailer to report on its crate-free progress — its suppliers had a 51% average conversion rate.
Animal Advocate Takeaways
While the standard for animal welfare within the Canadian food industry is not where most advocates would like it to be, the demand for transparency may influence positive change moving forward. As such, animal advocates in Canada can use this scorecard to hold food services accountable for their welfare practices. This includes businesses that have yet to introduce welfare policies as well as companies that are still on the way to achieving their full commitments.
In addition, advocates should also take their demands directly to the NFACC, which is the body responsible for implementing farmed animal welfare standards in Canada. It’s clear that Canadian consumers expect better standards from the animal agriculture industry, and it’s up to the NFACC to put these demands into action.