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New Shifts In Animal Welfare Are Coming

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In order for us to maintain our leadership position, the status quo is unacceptable.

Alberta Farm Animal Care Association

As noted by Will Verboven (on the opposite page) Susan Church has decided to leave AFAC. This is her final report to the board of directors.

Back in 1992, the industry had the foresight to figure out it needed to come together on livestock issues and made the decision to focus on animal welfare. The industry developed a mandate and the four pillars of that mandate are still what lead us today.

This past year, the board tackled the development of a consolidated Strategic Plan. We had several project/program plans but not one overarching one – stating how to effectively deliver on our mission and make a distinctive impact, relative to our resources.

As AFAC board members said, “it was a simple, cost-effective process and has been a very worthwhile exercise. It is a powerful document and sets the tone for what AFAC is about and where it is going.” The key components are listed and the goals are the headers in the annual report.

AFAC’s Vision: Livestock in Alberta are respected and well cared for.

AFAC’s Mission: AFAC will provide a co-ordinated approach for the livestock industry to work together to advance and promote responsible animal care.

AFAC will be a collective voice for livestock welfare in Alberta.

Guiding Principles: Proper handling of animals in our care is a moral, social, ethical responsibility.

Sound animal welfare practices and healthy animals may contribute significantly to improved production and industry sustainability.

Strong, co-operative partnerships with industry in extension, research, legislative developments and enforcement are essential.

As a diverse livestock industry organization, AFAC provides a collective voice and member groups are responsible to deliver industry specific programs on their own behalf.

AFAC continues to drive improvements and innovation in animal care. Whether it is through the development of what is now a nationally recognized livestock hauler training program, the Livestock Transport Conference, humane handling guidelines or initiating the country’s only on-call veterinary-supported response service, AFAC has demonstrated animal care is top of mind for farmers, handlers, haulers and processors. That is why when the horrible images of the Hallmark meat plant hit the U. S., we could stand up and show by our actions what we have in place to ensure responsible animal care. American agencies turned to us for our resources and programs.

A SHIFT COMING

The industry has made a collective effort to understand what the issues are. And, over the years there has been a remarkable shift in attitude. Our industry representatives are some of the most progressive in the world and we are prepared to take on the next big wave of challenges.

In order for us to maintain our leadership position, the status quo is unacceptable. It’s about continuous improvement. I predict another shift in production practices that will be more inclusive of all aspects of animal needs.

We factor in how animals function and feel, but the next step is to look at the animal’s ability to exhibit its natural behaviours. I think about how far we’ve come in some things – like increasing laying hen cage sizes. But now we’re looking to see if that’s enough. Can the life of the bird and productivity be enhanced with more mobility, nesting boxes and perches?

That’s the level of animal care we’re going to be moving into. Uncertainty, yes, but well within the industry’s capability if the current attention to animal welfare issues is sustained. Our industry funded research efforts demonstrate this.

It was noted on the AFAC article on California Proposition 2 (http://afac.ab.ca/current/prop2/08Nov25.htm) that with respect to improving animal welfare, these types of ballot measures may be a bit shortsighted. Now that certain livestock housing conditions have been outlawed in California, farmers are left to come up with a solution for their farms that comply with legislation, try to re-establish their operation out-of-state or go out of business.

A more effective way to bring about change would be to allow producers to voluntarily phase out practices that may compromise welfare so that the problem does not merely relocate. In Colorado, the pork industry voluntarily phased out gestation crates without it having to go to the voters and thus could control the measures to be taken and the timeline.

Is it not time for Alberta industries to get ahead of this issue and drive change using the research we have available to us?

I am not an animal handing/ behaviour expert by any means. Luckily, I feed off the knowledge and enthusiasm of the team of AFAC contractors (thanks Pam, Ray, Mikki, Sharron, Jennifer, Tim, and Jackie), my counterparts in Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, industry staff, world wide contacts and our Alberta industry. I am inspired by the people who have the strength to earn a living in the livestock industry. There is a strong attitude of “we can make this happen” When I witness that dedication, that commitment, I can’t help but be proud about what AFAC and the livestock industry has accomplished for livestock care in Alberta.

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