Time has come to beef up the code governing cattle production in Canada

ALMOST READY Producers are being urged to read and offer feedback on the new 
code of practice which will soon be available on the Internet

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Beef producers need a new code of practice to fend off criticism from animal-rights activists and so they can better make their case to consumers and governments, says an official with the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association.

The last code of practice for beef was written in 1991 and the update will reflect changes that have been spurred by new research since then, says Ryder Lee, the association’s manager of federal/provincial relations.

There has also been a major change in consumer attitudes since then, Lee told attendees at the Alberta Beef Producers semi-annual meeting in Edmonton. He pointed to the pressure being applied to ban battery cages for poultry and gestation crates for sows, as well as changes in the approach being taken by large buyers such as McDonald’s and Walmart.

There will be more of that in the future and the new code of practice will help producers be prepared, he said.

“It’s important to be able to have Canadian based research to be able to have that conversation,” said Lee, who farms near Fir Mountain, Sask.

There is little scientific data on pain and pain management and that leaves practices such as castration, dehorning, and branding open to criticism. Feeding practices and exposing cattle to stress from heat or cold are also attracting attention, he said.

But public scrutiny isn’t a bad thing if you can explain that your practices don’t harm animals, he said, citing cattle transport as a good example.

“We’ve got a good story to tell on transport,” said Lee. “Science that has been done in the past few years, supported by producer checkoff money in Ontario and Alberta, shows that over 99.9 per cent of the cattle that we’re shipping are arriving just fine.”

The National Farm Animal Care Council, formed in 2005, is involved in updating the code, said Lee. Along with livestock reps, the council includes animal-care groups, processors, researchers, restaurant and food services, the Society for Protection of Cruelty to Animals, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, transporters, retailers, and governments.

The updated code will include all practices in the beef industry, from breeding to euthanasia. It will also include a lot of background information, so it can be used and understood by people who are not producers.

The beef code is currently being drafted and is almost ready for public comment. Lee advised all producers to read the code of practice once it is available on the Internet, and give their comments. One of the goals is to have the code serve as a practical guide to cattle management in Canada and should be a resource for all producers, even those who have spent decades in the cattle business, said Lee.

There are about eight codes of practice needed for the various animal commodities in Canada. The dairy code of practice was the pilot and was completed in 2009.

About the author

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Alexis Kienlen

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, Alexis is also the author of two collections of poetry, a biography, and a novel called "Mad Cow."

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