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Animal Rights vs Animal Welfare

What is the difference between animal rights and animal welfare?

I was asked this once in a vet school interview. How do you make the distinction? Is this another ethical and moral debate, or is it really all that clear cut?

What spurred this post was reading about the death of animal activist Regan Russell who was run over by semi-truck that was delivering pigs to a slaughterhouse. News is always sad when a life is lost, and a life of a woman who was only trying to save other’s lives, even if they were non-human lives, becomes an even sadder tale.

Animals Rights versus Animal Welfare

Animal rights in its simple form means for animals to share the same rights as people. As such, animal rights activists believe that animals were not placed on earth for the sole purpose of being exploited by humans and that they should share freedom to live a life without suffering a demise due to human actions and selfish acts.

Animal welfare is the legal guidelines by which animals can be raised for the consumption by humans as long as while they are living they do not suffer from pain or injury, that they receive adequate food, water and medical attention requirement for their care. This is under the mandate that humans have a right to safe and adequate food choices and follow legal guidelines set forth by provincial or national law.

Both animal rights and animal welfare will be dependent on the country that the humans and animals reside.

The Food Supply Chain

It is the global demand for protein-rich animal products that drives animal production. It is the consumer demand, whether within our country or for export, that puts pressure on meat production. No longer are you growing for your family and neighbours, but for the world.

When we start getting into where our food comes from, it has evolved and the welfare conditions of animals outside of Canada are different than they are within our borders. Many Canadians look to purchase local foods. Foods grown in Canada. People are more likely to help a friend or neighbour than they are a stranger. Which means that purchasing from a local producer or farmer has value.

Changes in Animal Welfare Guidelines

Animal welfare guidelines change over time. Guidelines may start off with suggestions that are backed by science, but not enforced as change towards improvement in animal welfare takes time. Eventually, once producers have had time to set-up their new and improved protocols, it then becomes enforceable by law.

There is continued research in animal welfare and is always in an attempt to improve guidelines. As our knowledge base grows, we all gain from these improvements. For example, it was once thought that piglets felt no pain, and therefore could be castrated at a young age without pain control. Then research showed that they do in fact feel pain, and it was not until 2016 that it was required by law to have pain control for piglets undergoing castration.

As of July 1, 2016 the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Pigs (NFACC, 2014) requires the use of analgesics during castration and tail-docking to help control post-procedure pain.

Every man who consumes pork should cringe at that. However, this research on pain control during piglet castration mentions that an injection of an anti-inflammatory medication prior to castration in 3-day-old piglets did not show a significant decrease in cortisol, but it was significant for 10-day-old piglets. But how does the pork producer win? Piglets that undergo less stress will gain weight faster, which improves their bottom dollar.

The current welfare guidelines for animal producers is given in a Code of Practice. These guidelines will change over time as new research is performed.

Vegan Lifestyle

To transition to a more plant-based lifestyle is a personal decision. It can be difficult when your family or partner does not transition with you. I try not to stress about it. We have slowly been replacing some meat products for plant-based products. If you are into burgers, you will know that Beyond Meat is a popular plant-based alternative to ground beef. There are a lot more non-dairy options. Large city centers have a lot of vegan restaurant options.

Fair Trade and Local Grown

Vegan does not mean healthier, nor does it mean sustainable, or even better human welfare. Take for instance the diminished human welfare in cashew farm labourers when the increased demand for plant-based options in the developed world put pressure on the farmers. Now, our privileged society of vegans is actually doing more harm to the under-privileged developing world, but I guess it is because they cannot see it with their own eyes.

So how do you make ethical choices if you do not have a farm of your own? Check out this guide on how to buy responsibly. Support local farmers - this means purchase the vegetables and fruit that are in season locally. If you have the room, then you can freeze for the winter.

You do not need to be vegan to be ethical - this is despite what animal rights groups may feel.

Become knowledgeable. Most of your dairy in Canada comes from local family run small operations because of the quota system in Canada. Many people are lactose intolerant, but if you are not, there are some dairy facilities that will allow you to visit to see where your dairy comes from. Many dairies are transitioning to robot milking, which makes it a choice for the cow to enter the milking machine, rather than moving her from her living quarters to the machine on a schedule. Understand that you cannot do sustainable grass-fed dairy in Ontario when we have winter from October to April. Then, understanding that a cow that is stressed will not lactate well, so cow comfort is a huge aspect of dairy farming. Read the labels, as not all dairy sold in Canada is produced in Canada.

When you are reading labels, it's not just ingredients, but where it was produced. Labeling for meats is confusing because it may be grown in Canada, shipped and slaughtered in the U.S., packaged and shipped back.

Then, do the standards fit with your personal beliefs, because it really is a personal decision.

New Regulations in Ontario for Animal Welfare Cases

At the beginning of this year the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, our animal welfare society that protects animals from injury and harm, advised that they would no longer be serving to protect animals and that this would fall on the provincial government. You can see the new Provincial Animal Welfare Services (PAWS) Act as well as the Basic Standards of Care for all Animals on the Ontario government website.

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