The Earl’s Conundrum.

Today Earl’s Restaurants announced that they are only serving what they call Certified Humane Beef through their Conscious Sourcing Program. Earl’s claim is: At Earls, we’re committed to conscious sourcing. That’s why all our beef comes from Certified Humane® farms and is raised without the use of antibiotics, added hormones or steroids. After all, it doesn’t just feel good to do the right thing — It tastes good, too.. This beef is not sourced from farmers in Canada. As a cattle farmer, my initial reaction is anger (how dare they infer that the beef I raise isn’t humane?) and then, introspection.

Am I, as a farmer, doing enough for my cattle and to tell people my story? My family spends hours researching new management techniques, how to improve the way we raise our cattle and care for our land. I have 2 degrees in animal agriculture. My husband has an agriculture degree. My sister-in-law is a mixed animal veterinarian. Our farm has an environmental farm plan. We take pride in our cattle and how we take of them and our land.  When we know better, we do better.  To tell others about farming, we have provided time and demo cattle to school events to talk about agriculture, we host groups to tour our farm, news interveiws, and more. On days like today, it seems our voice is not enough.  I encourage anyone that has questions about farming practices to talk to a real, live farmer. Ask me, or check out resources like Farm and Food Care Canada and Ask the Farmers. Talk to farmers and veterinarians about animal care, it’s our life’s passion.

Earls cut steak

Image source : Earls.ca

Why are consumers duped into these programs?  I’m guessing this sells for the same reason many other things do…fear…fear of things we don’t understand. So few people today are directly connect to livestock production, how can you know what is best? Food is a very emotional subject, so selling a fear of other food by inferring that it is “bad” makes a good sale.  Note on Earl’s site, they use the tag line “Cut Steaks, not Corners” to make it seem like anything less than their product is sub-par. As a farmer who cares deeply for my cattle, this is super offensive.

 

 

How is it ethical or humane to withold treatment to an animal that is sick? The Earl’s program is a “Never/Never” program that is stated to that these animal have never been treated with an antibiotic in their lifetime. As a farmer, I take my animal health very seriously. We manage our cattle very tightly, but inevitably, some cattle get sick and I see it as my duty of care to treat the animal as prescribed by my veterinarian to do my best to heal the calf. We also a very careful to follow the directions on withdrawal times to be sure that when an animal is sold, there is no antibiotic left in their system.

How is being less efficient by not using hormones or steroids better for the environment? Keeping producers from using these products is actually worse for the environment. Animals that are less efficient need more resources, feed, land and water, in order to produce the same amount of beef. How is that good for the planet? The safety of these products are clear. It’s safe. The difference between implanted and non-implanted beef is negligible and a drop in the bucket compared to many other things we eat, never mind if you are a woman who uses hormonal birth control.

More technically, I have many questions for Earl’s about how the program was specifically developed, with who (beyond the Creekstone Farm’s plug in the promo video), and how it the program audited? These are big claims for Earl’s to say they are using the Gold Standard in the industry. I am curious to know how they came to the nuts and bolts of the program.

I guess at the end of the day it is about trust. Do consumers trust me, as a farmer, that I am doing the best I can for my cattle and the environment? I’d be crazy not to.

Duty of care.

This week we were blessed with yet another drop off cat. Meet Jerry. He’s super sweet, neutered and most definitely was someone’s house pet not too long ago. Thankfully, we welcome cats and have a vet in the family to provide free care, so, we keep all drop offs as our pets. But, this weekend getting yet another cat got me kind of rant-y about the concept of “Duty of Care.”

wp-1459200779963.jpg

Jerry, our newest member of our feline family. They 7th (I think)  drop off cat we received this year.

I get my hackles up as I feel that farmers are sometimes portrayed as money grabbing tyrants that don’t care for their animals. I assure you we do.

Continue reading

My review of Earthlings the Movie.

Earthlings Commentary/Critique

I was asked by a friendly and respectful vegan on #farm365 to watch Earlings the movie and provide feedback.  It took me a while, but I finally put together my thoughts.

Overall, the movie is highly skewed and uses a lot of foreign footage to further the agenda of the producers: ending animal agriculture. The movie uses mostly footage from organizations such as PETA, HSUS, Humane Farmer’s Associations, Greenpeace and other animal rights organizations. There isn’t any balance in the footage with inputs from farmers, industry groups or agriculture scientists.

The film quite dated now as well as it was released in 2005 and much of the footage is from 1996-2001.

My comments go through Earthling chronologically. They are meant to brief. I encourage any disucssion or questions about them.

Opening Sequence

The opening comments about speciesism. Speciesism is part of nature.  Pretty much all species do protect themselves preferentially over other species. I though this blog was insightful to the speciesism argument  http://speakingofresearch.com/2014/03/20/speciesism-is-unavoidable/. I inherently believe humans are more sacred than animals.

The scene with the pig being killed by bludgeoning with a cinder block is unacceptable. I don’t agree with how the pig was put down. There are code of practice and huge national working groups on Humane Destruction and Disposal. I was part of one these for a role I had in the past and industry professionals, veterinarians and scientists take a lot of time and care to make sure the way animals are euthanized or slaughter is humane. In the case of pigs of the size shown the acceptable methods for euthanasia are overdose of anesthetics, captive bolt or gunshot to the head. Here is the code of practice for swine euthanasia https://www.nfacc.ca/codes-of-practice/pig-code#section6.

I disagree with the comment that animal are other nations-my personal belief.

The general principle that animal welfare considerations modelled are the 5 freedoms for animal welfare or Brambell’s Five Principles.

Five Freedoms for Animal Welfare

The welfare of an animal includes its physical and mental state and we consider that good animal welfare implies both fitness and a sense of well-being. Any animal kept by man, must at least, be protected from unnecessary suffering.

We believe that an animal’s welfare, whether on farm, in transit, at market or at a place of slaughter should be considered in terms of ‘five freedoms’. These freedoms define ideal states rather than standards for acceptable welfare. They form a logical and comprehensive framework for analysis of welfare within any system together with the steps and compromises necessary to safeguard and improve welfare within the proper constraints of an effective livestock industry.

  1. Freedom from Hunger and Thirst– by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigor.
  2. Freedom from Discomfort– by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.
  3. Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease– by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.
  4. Freedom to Express Normal Behavior– by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind.
  5. Freedom from Fear and Distress– by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.

http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20121007104210/http:/www.fawc.org.uk/freedoms.htm

Part 1 Pets

The commentary on breeders, I agree that there is a distinct lack of regulation in the pet breeding industry.  The commentary about shelters and euthanasia rates are likely bang on. On a personal note, my sister in law is a veterinarian and does much of the veterinary services for our local humane society, it is sad to see the number of pet surrendered and abandoned. All our dogs and cats are rescues. In addition, we usually get 5 or so dropped off cats at our farm annually as we are close to town. Sadly, some we can’t catch or take care of until they are too sick or starved to live. We would much rather people came to our door with the cats so we can take of them properly instead of trying to coax a terrified cat to come to us so we can care for them.

100% agree with the commentary urging pet owners to spay and neuter their pets.

In terms of euthanasia for cats and dogs, this is the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association Statement. http://www.canadianveterinarians.net/documents/euthanasia

The footage of the dog being crushed in the garbage truck is sickening.

Part 2 Food

Beef Footage

The footage of the worker taunting is again not acceptable to industry. Like in all industries there are individuals who behave inappropriately.

The footage of branding. Most cattle in Canada are no longer branded (less than 10% according to NFAAC). In the 30+ years I have been around cattle, I have never seen animal branded on the head, it is illegal in Canada. Usually they are on the hip or shoulder. Branding is generally used for identification purposes. I admit that there are pain issues with branding. We brand our cattle either with a freeze brand for dark hair cattle or hot iron for our white haired cattle.  There a pain concerns with either method; hot irons cause more acute pain while freeze branding is a more chronic pain. We do so for ID purposed. Last fall we had 100 bull calves break through a fence after being chased by a predator. They had no brand and it took 2 months to find all our cattle. We also use ear tags and tattoos for identification, but those are easily removed in case of theft, tags fall off and tattoos are placed inside the ear so they are difficult to see.

Here is the code of practice for beef cattle.  ttps://www.nfacc.ca/pdfs/codes/beef_code_of_practice.pdf it covers recommended procedures and legal practice for animal care including branding, dehorning etc.

For the Dehorning footage, again more and more cattle are bred to be naturally polled (no horns). The National Standard for dehorning recommendations is:

The horns of beef cattle are routinely removed to decrease the risk of injuries to workers and other

Animals, and to minimize economic losses due to carcass bruising. The proportion of beef cattle with

horns has been steadily decreasing in recent years, as the availability and adoption of polled (hornless)

genetics has increased (39). Most common breeds of beef cattle have polled lines available, and the

use of homozygous polled genetics eliminates the need for disbudding or dehorning without affecting

productivity (3,40-42). Dehorning must be performed only by competent personnel using proper, well-maintained tools and accepted techniques. Seek guidance from your veterinarian on the availability and advisability of pain control for disbudding or dehorning beef cattle. Disbud calves as early as practically possible, while horn development is still at the horn bud stage (typically 2-3 months).

EFFECTIVE JANUARY 1, 2016:

Use pain control, in consultation with your veterinarian to mitigate pain associated

With dehorning calves after horn bud attachment.

RECOMMENDED PRACTICES

  1. use homozygous polled bulls where practical to eliminate the need for disbudding or dehorning (3).
  2. avoid dehorning at the time of weaning to reduce stress (3).

 

Dairy cattle Footage

I grew up on a dairy farm, was part owner until 2009 and have 5 brothers that are actively dairy farming. This footage isn’t reflective of current farming practices.

For cows that are in tie stall barns, they generally go out for exercise and grazing.  The tie stall barns are less common now than loose housing barns where cows can choose when and to eat and lie down.

The comment about pesticide and antibiotics in milk is categorically false. Each tank of milk that is picked from a dairy farm is tested for residues, adequate storage temperature and cleanliness.

The revelation that dairy cows are slaughtered is true.  I feel that it is the proper thing to do in terms of reducing waste and dairy cows are a very lean source of protein.  The footage of the cows going to slaughter is very dated – 1996.

Downer cows. It is illegal to ship down cows for human meat consumption. An animal must be ambulatory in order to be slaughtered.  It’s illegal in Canada to transport downer cows. They are euthanized on farm and then are used for pet food. This is the same for downer beef cows.  Here is the link for the CFIA’s regulations http://www.inspection.gc.ca/animals/terrestrial-animals/humane-transport/compromised-animals-policy/eng/1360016317589/1360016435110

The comments about meat production, if you are interested in slaughterhouse welfare, Temple Grandin www.templegrandin.com . This is footage from a slaughterhouse https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VMqYYXswono.

The comments about harvesting blood. It has a number of great medical uses in terms of use for agar for culturing bacteria, using as a medium to grow vaccines and countless other uses for medicine. I believe if we are going to slaughter animals, we are obligated to use them to best extent we can.

The footage of stressed cattle is again distressing. It’s distressful for the animal and stressed animals end up as “dark cutters” or tough meat.

In Canada, we have meat inspection agencies at the Federal and Provincial level that oversee the slaughter and welfare of cattle.

The footage of Kosher Slaughter, I can’t comment too scientifically as I am not expert in this field, but on a personal not I disagree. These animals aren’t stunned before bleeding which to me, means they are in fear and pain. This a paper by Temple Grandin, regarding religous slaugher. http://www.grandin.com/ritual/kosher.slaugh.html

Veal Calves

Again, I don’t have direct experience in this industry, but the footage is old and in Canada there are Codes of Practice for Veal Calves. The codes are older and currently under review. https://www.nfacc.ca/codes-of-practice/veal-calves.  Many to most of the bull calves marketed from dairy cows are raised as regular beef and not as veal in Western Canada.

Swine Production

Sows are not continually pregnant. They do have rest period. Sows traditionally have been raised in gestation crates as they have a tenancy to savage their pigs and/or sit on them.  As an industry, the swine industry has recognized this as an area they can improve upon.  As of July 1, 2014 any new facilities must have loose housing from sows and older facilities have time to renovate their barns to loose housing. From the NFACC  Codes of Practice: As of July 1, 2024, mated gilts and sows must be housed: in groups*; or in individual pens; or  in stalls, if they are provided with the opportunity to turn around or exercise periodically, or other means that allow greater freedom of movement. Suitable options will be clarified by the participating stakeholders by July 1, 2019, as informed by scientific evidence.

The footage of the hurt sows and abscesses, these pigs should be taken care of by veterinarian or trained animal health technician. It’s not acceptable to have animals like this, and we have a duty as livestock caretakers to treat sick and injured animals as quickly as possible

For the comments about cannibalism, it is a real problem in pigs and the major reason that tail docking occurs in swine.  As of July 1, 2016 all pigs are required to receive pain medication when tails are docked. Many producers proactively have adapted this practice.  Pigs that are being cannibalized should be separated, treated if possible or euthanized.

Teeth clipping in pigs aren’t common practice any more either.

For castration, any castrating of pigs over 10 days of age requires pain medication. As of July 1, 2016 pigs at any age will require pain meds for castration. https://www.nfacc.ca/codes-of-practice/pig-code#section4

For the slaughter footage, electrocution is conditionally acceptable for a slaughter method, but not common in slaughterhouse. Most use a captive bolt. Then slit their throats after they are dead, and then scald the hair off.  There’s a code for this too!! https://www.nfacc.ca/codes-of-practice/pig-code#appendixn. Again for footage of pig slaughter, Temple Grandin has a video of that here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LsEbvwMipJI

Poultry Industry

Disclosure, I have severe asthma, so I have only been in a commercial poultry barn once or twice. Not my area of expertise.  Canada again has codes of practices for Poultry. They are currently under revision, but here is the current set of codes: https://www.nfacc.ca/codes-of-practice/chickens-turkeys-and-breeders. The chicken farmers of Canada also have a manual for animal care http://www.chickenfarmers.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Animal-Care-Manual-2009-2011-printing.pdf

The footage of throwing chicks, again it’s unacceptable.

The debeaking footage is from 2002 and the footage from the barns is from 1995. If you are interested in seeing current layer barns, here is a neat set of videos from Saskatchewan Egg Farmers https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kbs8d-H0Mt0&list=PLUYKr-aLNt4Z2qIXRhzuD2dX4WiPrc_Y8 .

Again, in chickens, cannibalism is a concern. I had a small flock of free range chickens growing up and even those hens would cannibalize each other given the chance. Hence the term “pecking order.” There are space, nutrition and management strategies that can help minimize cannibalism, but unfortunately, it also is part of the nature of the chicken as they are omnivores.

The footage of slaughter again was poor. I have never heard of a hang pen nor is clubbing acceptable. It’s not okay that these things have happened in the past, but modern slaughter practices are much different. Again, Temple Grandin has video of a poultry slaughterhouse here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VQ2fDX76Mmc.  I have seen smaller local poultry processing plants and they all have been equally well run.

Seafood and Fishing Industry

I have no expertise here at all so can’t comment professionally. Personally, I hate the idea of all the wasted/killed fish that are called “bycatch.”

Animal Disease

There codes of biosecurity for most livestock species are available here http://www.inspection.gc.ca/animals/terrestrial-animals/biosecurity/standards-and-principles/eng/1344707905203/1344707981478.

The goal is to keep the livestock and us humans healthy. Also, in Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency tests all meat for microbial contamination at a very rigorous level.

Whaling and Dolphin Slaughter

Again I have no way to comment on this professionally. The methods of hunting and slaughter do not appear humane.

Part 3 Clothes

Indian Leather Industry

Again, here this is way out of my scope, but realize that the hide from cattle slaughtered in North America is used for leather and is valued at about $100/hide (http://www.ams.usda.gov/mnreports/nw_ls441.txt)

Fur Industry

Again there are codes of practice for mink. https://www.nfacc.ca/codes-of-practice/mink

Personally, I am not a fan of the fur industry, as it seems pretty wasteful and there many other options for clothing. I have no problem with indigenous peoples using furs they hunt but don’t see the value otherwise.

Much of the footage shown in the movie is foreign.

Part 4 Entertainment

Rodeos

This absolutely is pure entertainment. Most bucking bulls are bred for performance, trained and cared for very well. Injuries do happen, they are more apt to happen to the calf roping and chuck racing than with the bucking bulls or bronc’s. Here is the Pro Rodeo Canada’s messaging on welfare: http://www.rodeocanada.com/animal_welfare.htm/

I personally again, do not enjoy commercial rodeo entertainment. I am more respectful of ranch rodeos that have more stringent guidelines on welfare and handling. It is more of a reflection of what a cowboy actually would do on a ranch and less focus on entertainment.

The footage of teasing animals again is disturbing and doesn’t happen to my knowledge in North America.

Hunting and Fishing

I am not a sportsman. On our farm we have a gun to euthanize animals if need be and we really don’t see the need for hunting. Personally, I don’t see any value in sport/trophy hunting or fishing. I can understand hunting/fishing if you intent eat the animal.  It is true that fish feel pain (no surprise). Here is a set of proceedings from an International Workshop on Fish Welfare. http://www.upm.es/sfs/E.T.S.I.%20Agronomos/ACTUALIDADES/Agenda/Documentos/Abstracts_01_02_2011.pdf

Circuses

I have no expertise in circus animal welfare but I am not interested in watching animals paraded for sport. The footage is older but again using animals for pure entertainment doesn’t appeal to me at all.

Zoos

I struggle with zoos as they provide excellent education opportunities for children and scientific research. Again, this is out of my scope of expertise. I do know that some are much better than others. For example in Winnipeg MB, the polar bear exhibit is 10 acres and designed extensively for the bears. The bear that are in the facility are bears that are trapped in Churchill repeatedly for coming to the town or in the case of Star and Blizzard, they are cubs that were found after their mother either abandoned them or perished. http://www.assiniboineparkzoo.ca/conservation-research/polar-bear-transition.php

Bullfighting

I don’t agree with killing for sport and can’t support this industry at all.

Vivisection

I believe using animals for medical research is acceptable if they are cared for appropriated. There are standards of care for lab animals. The Canadian Council for Animal Care set the regulatory guidelines for animals used for research in Canada http://www.ccac.ca/en_/standards/guidelines.

My final comments

This production was highly funded by animal rights organizations whose sole intent is cease animal agriculture.  The footage is old and much of it was from foreign countries. It is disturbing to see any animals treated poorly. I firmly believe in North America, there is small minority of livestock producers that are not caring for animals. I also believe that as a parent, if you followed me around for months at a time, you would see some time that I do not behave well, but that is not reflective of who I am as a parent. The same can be said of some of the animal rights footage in the media nowadays.

As a farmer, I believe in the concept of “Duty of Care.” I believe the livestock production is a solid component of our food system that utilizes inputs that are unfit for human consumption and convert them into high quality protein. On our farm we care and respect for our stock as best as possible while we raise them and then they are slaughtered using the most humane possible.

For more information on farming in Canada, I’d recommend the Real Dirt on Farming Resource from Farm and Food Care Canada:

http://www.farmfoodcare.org/

http://www.realdirtonfarming.ca/

Or visit a local farmer!

A tale of respiratory disease

So the past two weeks I’ve been battling a chest cold. I finally bit the bullet and went to my doctor today Diagnosis: bronchitis. I have asthma and a history of bronchitis and pneumonia, so I was expecting this. I got a script for antibiotics a lecture about inhalers and taking it easy. This got me thinking about this advertisement email I got the other day:

Meyer's Natural Beef

This email has all sorts of things I’d like to talk about, but for today, I’ll stick to the antibiotic free part.

Consumers are looking for for more natural beef. I’m all about market development but where does that leave cattle producers from a welfare standpoint? Animals get sick. As a farmer, I do my best to keep my cattle healthy though best management practices and an intensive preventative medicine plans developed in conjunction with our herd health vet.

Respiratory disease is the most common disease in cattle. The bovine lung is more susceptible to respiratory disease than other livestock species. Cattle have small lungs, relative to the animals’ size, and the lungs are set deep in the chest.

Image of calf lung relative to calf size. Source: lungprotection.com

Image of calf lung relative to calf size. Source: lungprotection.com

Once viruses and bacteria get into the lungs, it’s easy for them to stay. Then when aggravating factors – such as stress, dust, heat, cold, or wind – make it difficult for the lungs to perform their usual self-protective functions, the viruses and bacteria can grow and cause infection. Even a small loss of lung capacity from infection can be a serious event because cattle have no lung tissue to spare. Consider this comparison between the lungs of cattle and horses. Cattle have 250% of the oxygen needs of horses but only 30% of the lung capacity. When cattle have reduced lung capacity from infection, they can consume even less of the oxygen that is essential to their overall health. (Source: Lungprotection.com)

What does this mean for the antibiotic free beef movement? Where are the ethics of not treating sick animals?

The National Farm Animal Care Code for Cattle Animal Health Requirements for Sick and Injured Care are:

Provide appropriate care, convalescence or treatment for sick, injured or lame cattle without delay. Monitor the animals’ response to therapy or care and, if the initial treatment protocol fails, then reassess treatment options or seek veterinary advice. Euthanize (or cull*) without delay cattle that:
• are unlikely to recover, or
• fail to respond to treatment and convalescent protocols, or
• have chronic, severe, or debilitating pain and distress, or
• are unable to get to or consume feed and water, or
• show continuous weight loss or emaciation.

What would we do with sick cattle that are treated with antibiotics if we move to a market where we do allow treated animals to be used for food production? To be clear, I am referring to cattle that were sick, treated, have recovered fully and are well past the withdrawal time for the prescribed medication when they are harvested for beef. I believe that it would be a huge disservice to the industry to exclude these animals from beef production. Disease happens, especially in times of harsh weather. Like this spring when we still had snow April 28:
Late spring snow storm.

Baby calves in late spring storms are a high risk for getting sick. In a world of antibiotic free beef, these calves would either 1. Excluded from the beef production cycle at a high cost to the producer and consumer if they are treated or 2. Left untreated would suffer more than necessary and possibly die. Neither option sounds like a great idea to me. So while I 100% support using the best management tools available to prevent disease and need to use antibiotics, I am very aware of how tough it is for cattle to resist disease in the face of stress like storms, dusk, handling etc. I am hoping we can reach a point one day again where the farmer is trusted and seen as a steward of animals using the best tools to care for their animals and land – even if the mean using products like antibiotics and other materials that are supported by sound science.