Experts challenge sustainability of Canada's food system

A new WSPA report reveals the hidden costs of industrial animal agriculture

TORONTO, April 24, 2012 /CNW/ - Today, the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) has released some alarming findings from a report commissioned to look at the wide-ranging impacts of Canada's animal agriculture practices.

What's On Your Plate? The Hidden Costs of Industrial Animal Agriculture exposes the destructive impacts of intensive livestock operations (ILOs) on our health, the environment, animal welfare and rural Canada.  "Intensive livestock operations or ILOs are producing drug resistant super bugs, destroying our planet's life support system and transforming the social fabric of our rural communities," says Melissa Matlow, WSPA Campaigns Manager, Humane and Sustainable Agriculture.

The report also exposes the real costs of our food.  We are seeing the results of our broken system through the escalation of food safety and public health issues.  "Food-borne illnesses are costing our healthcare system between $12 and $14 billion annually," says report contributor Dr. Eva Pip. Animal agriculture uses more land and water than any other human activity. "The running of ILOs also involves significant energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions," notes Dr. Tony Weis.

ILOs are costing Canadian taxpayers directly as well. As Darrin Qualman points out, "Government of Canada data shows that hog ILOs couldn't exist without huge tax-funded subsidies." Farm animals are paying a high price too.  They suffer painful mutilations, are bred to grow faster and crammed into small cages, all to make ILOs possible. "There is solid evidence that our industrial farming practices are causing acute suffering for animals," concludes Dr. Ian Duncan.

Key report findings:

  • The huge amounts of manure from ILOs contain antibiotic residues, heavy metals and pathogens (like E. coli).  When applied to fields or illegally dumped in ditches, these toxins end up in our drinking water and on crops.  It also flows into lakes and rivers, killing fish
  • Non-therapeutic use of antibiotics is causing drug resistant super bugs to be found on ILOs in manure and in groundwater near fields - risking the effectiveness of life-saving medicines
  • ILOs are causing species loss, soil erosion and lake and river pollution
  • Taxpayers are subsidizing the largest industrial farms.  Hog farms with annual revenues over $1million collected 72% of the subsidies in 2009.  Since 1996, Canadians have given nearly $4 billion to subsidize the hog industry
  • ILOs have caused the hollowing out of rural communities as increasing debt, diminished quality of life and soaring unemployment mean businesses, people and infrastructure are abandoning these areas
  • Painful mutilations done to farm animals (beak severing, hot branding, teeth breaking, etc) without anesthetic would be illegal if performed on a cat or dog and are purely surgical solutions to human-made problems

WSPA is calling for changes by all levels of government to policies and practices that will safe-guard the health of Canadians, protect our environment, revitalize rural communities and improve the lives of farm animal across the country.

Report recommendations:

  • Phase out painful mutilations (de-beaking, castration, etc) performed without anaesthetic or require anaesthetic be given
  • Support the Canadian Medical Association's call to require veterinary prescriptions for all agriculture antibiotic use
  • Work with industry and farmers to end the worst confinement systems (battery cages, sow stalls, veal crates, etc.)
  • Redirect farm subsidies to support family farmers and to encourage more humane and sustainable farming practices
  • Regulate industrial livestock operations like other major polluting industries
  • Pass a new federal law requiring labelling that would identify production methods to help Canadian consumers choose free-range, local and antibiotic free meat, milk and eggs

JOIN US - April 24, 10:30 am for a press conference at Wychwood Barns Community Gallery (76 Wychwood Avenue, Toronto), with report contributors Dr. Ian Duncan, Dr. Tony Winson and Dr. Tony Weis, with WSPA ambassador and Canadian supermodel Liisa Winkler.

Some humane and sustainable breakfast snacks will be provided.

Images and some B-roll footage linked to the report are available. 

About What's On Your Plate? The Hidden Costs of Industrial Animal Agriculture:
Two years in the making, What's On Your Plate? is the first comprehensive Canadian examination of the impacts of industrial animal agriculture.  The report includes contributions from leading Canadian academics in the fields of animal husbandry, environmental science, agricultural economics, bioethics, microbiology, water quality and toxicology and a foreword from Dr. Thomas S. Axworthy.

About the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA):
The World Society for the Protection of Animals seeks to create a world where animal welfare matters and animal cruelty has ended. Active in more than 50 countries, we work directly with animals and with the people and organizations that can ensure animals are treated with respect and compassion. For more information, visit us at www.wspa.ca; follow us on Twitter or 'Like' us on Facebook.

For further information:

For more information and interviews please contact:
Elizabeth Sharpe, WSPA Communications Manager, sharpe@wspa.ca, 416-369-0044 x111, cell 647-268-8122
Melissa Matlow, WSPA Campaigns Manager, Humane and Sustainable Agriculture, matlow@wspa.ca, 416-369-0044 x108, cell 416-712-3468