The SPCA is calling on the province to pass a law protecting the health and welfare of farm animals.
The industry currently regulates itself with codes of practice, but the group says that’s not good enough.
A video produced by the Montreal SPCA calls on the government to include farm animals in the province’s Animal Welfare and Safety Act.
“A lot of people believe that animals on farms are actually protected by animal welfare laws that are in existence right now, and that’s not the case. Those laws specifically exclude animals that are on farms,” said Anthony Johnson, the Montreal SPCA’s executive director .
A petition to change that has already received more than 28,000 signatures online but the union representing farmers says it’s more complex.
“Well, there are different rules and regulations that apply to animals that are raised on farms,” said Stephanie Levasseur, vice-president of Union des producteurs agricoles.
Levasseur says farmers have to follow a code of practice designed by the National Farm Animal Care Council, a Canada-wide organization of industry stakeholders, including veterinarians.
The code establishes animal welfare rules that she says are constantly being updated based on best practices.
“The fact that it is not in legislation makes it a lot more flexible. So, if new science comes about, it’s easy to integrate it,” Levasseur said.
Farmers who violate the codes of practice can be de-certified by their association and risk losing their right to sell food products.
But Johnson, of the SPCA, said industry standards are very different from what is considered the acceptable treatment of pets.
“For example, baby pigs can be castrated without anesthesia. This is perfectly legal and is in line with industry standards. That same type of behavior — if you did that to a dog or a cat — could land you in court with fines or even jail time,” he said.
“Every pig has a story.”
There have been high-profile instances of animal mistreatment in Quebec, such as in 2019 when activists occupied a pig farm in Saint-Hyachine and released a video that appeared to show sick pigs living in filthy conditions.
The government, so far, has been unwilling to change the law.