Monday, November 14, 2011

First BC Farm Animal Care Conference Brings Out the Best

The new BC Farm Animal Care Council (BCFACC) held its first conference in Abbotsford on November 10th, bringing a variety of speakers with different perspectives and roles in the food supply chain, all well known in their fields. BCFACC is an organization of producers working with producers to promote a high level of animal care through communication and sharing of knowledge. A wide variety of people attended, including farmers, farm organizations, humane organizations, industry specialists, academics, students and all levels of government.

The keynote speaker was Dr. Temple Grandin, a designer of livestock handling facilities and professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University. Temple is world renowned for her equipment designs that are used in meat plants and her scientific work on reducing handling stress of animals. Her book, Animals in Translation, was a New York Times best seller. She has also written other popular press books, scientific textbooks and chapters and hundreds of industry publications. She has received numerous awards from humane and industry organizations. She has developed animal welfare guidelines for the meat industry and has consulted with McDonald's, Wendy's, Burger King and other companies.

All of these achievements are made more remarkable because Temple was an autistic child. At age two she could not talk and had all the signs of autism. Her mother defied the doctors who wanted her institutionalized, and instead Temple was given speech therapy and intensive teaching. She was mentored by her high school science teacher and her aunt who was a rancher, motivating her to pursue a career as a scientist and livestock equipment designer. HBO produced a movie about Temple's early life and career, and the film won seven Emmy awards, a Golden Globe and a Peabody award.

Temple covered the basics of her work in her presentation, emphasizing how important no-stress handling is and how to accomplish it. She also outlined what is needed to keep animals calm, and how to set up a system that is easy to monitor and audit. She pointed out that people are far removed from food production, and because of the images they see in movies, books and the internet, they view farm animals as pets. She recommended "streaming everything out to the internet" and show what we do. Her advice had already been taken by BCFACC; the entire conference was being videotaped.

Susan Church, who managed Alberta Farm Animal Care Association until her retirement in 2009, spoke on the value and merit of farm animal care councils, mainly for improved animal well-being and better returns for farm businesses. Jackie Wepruk of National Farm Animal Care Council spoke on the ongoing revisions of the Codes of Practice, a science-based consensus process that includes many stakeholders. Ron Maynard, a dairy farmer and Vice President of Dairy Farmers of Canada, spoke on the dairy farmers experience with their new Codes of Practice.

Other industry perspectives were also given. Certified Livestock Transportation was discussed by Kevan Garecki, Bonnie Windsor of Johnston's Packers gave the pork processor's view on animal welfare and its importance to meat quality and animal handling in the plant, and Ken Clark of Overwaitea Food Group talked about the retail end and how they educate consumers on the welfare practices of their suppliers.

Dr. David Fraser, NSERC Industrial Research Chair in Animal Welfare from UBC shared his thoughts on adapting to a changing world. Beyond the nuts and bolts of good animal welfare, which includes husbandry, nutrition, disease prevention and treatment, and low stress handling, he said that animal welfare is now a global political issue as well. He sees the extreme animal welfare view of Europe as a reflection of the European conflict with the industrial revolution. The debate in Europe over industrialization has set the stage for what are seeing today. Opponents say that cities and factories were not beneficial to humans, and the agrarian model of days past, with freedom of the individual and the emotional romanticism that results are important. The other world view that sees cities and factories that relieve people of laborious jobs and increase productivity and wealth as good, is viewed also as progress and improvement, and is "rational". The mid 1900`s were concerned with production, as food security and the shortage of labour were real issues.
As modern advancements allowed for a greater intensification of farming, the term ``factory farming`` cropped up, not by farmers but by their critics.

Society’s pet-centric trends and lack of farm knowledge, and the fact that farmers are not among the majority of voters or consumers, has created more pressure on farmers who raise livestock. The BC Farm Animal Care Council is there to work with producers and give them the resources they need, and to ensure the public has the information they want. The BC Farm Animal Care Line is 877-828-5486.

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