The true north strong and free

As I write this column, I am watching the CBC news coverage of Parliament Hill under siege by a gunman (or men).  It’s a little difficult to concentrate on what I was going to write about, which is the WTO decision on COOL, which sided with Canada and Mexico.

At this point, no one knows how many shooters are involved, or why the attack happened. We don’t know whether this is connected to ISIS, to any other known terrorist group, or to something entirely new. For all I know at this very second, this could be related to pipeline activists.

My media career started shortly after the Columbine school shooting. At the time, I was working as the content producer for a morning talk show at a radio station in Winnipeg. It was my job to find people the talk show host could interview the morning after the shooting. I managed to find the aunt of a dead student who was willing to talk, but succeeding at that task made me feel dirty and shallow.

I’ve thought about that many times over the years… whether that interview helped the grieving aunt deal with the loss of her loved one, or whether it helped our listeners better understand the tragedy. In other words, did I ultimately cause more harm or did it actually make things better in some small way? I became a journalist because I wanted to help people. As cheesy as it sounds, I truly wanted to make the world a better place.

That may have been the first time I felt like a leech in my media career, but it wouldn’t be the last. In later years, part of my job as a reporter meant that I had to attend tragedies such as fires where families lost everything they owned, and fatal highway accidents. Each and every time I would cover something like that I would question why I was there, and what purpose my presence served. The only answer I could ever come up with was to try and prevent it from happening again. As a result, I would ensure a large portion of the subsequent article would be educational – the importance of driving to conditions, of having functional smoke detectors, the fire hazards around real Christmas trees, not driving fatigued, always wearing a helmet when riding a quad… the list is as long as the number of tragedies you can imagine. Regular reporting also helps draw attention to problem intersections that have a really high collision rate, and it can help dispel typical small-town rumours that drinking was involved in an accident when it wasn’t.

Still, despite knowing that, nothing will erase the memory of when I was attacked by a woman who had been involved in a highway accident. There were no serious injuries, and I was standing a safe distance from the scene, taking photos of the damaged vehicles. The woman was enraged, and she began pushing me, and she called me names I cannot repeat in print. I felt awful. I cried all the way home. The self-doubt and angst I had experienced all throughout my career were crystallized in that one moment on a snowy night on the TransCanada Highway.

It wasn’t long after that incident I became a firefighter. I’d always wanted to be a firefighter. In fact, when I was a little girl, my parents were worried that if I ever saw a building on fire, I would rush in to try and help. And of course, because of the generation I grew up in, I was told girls simply couldn’t be firefighters. When I joined, it felt like I was giving back, or making up for all the times I stood by the side of a wreck doing nothing but taking photos. Today I do it because I love it. I love helping people, and I love the sense of family that being on the department brings.

That family includes our emergency medical responders, our police, and our military – and you know what? I’ve finally learned it includes journalists too. This family is comprised by everyone who runs toward the danger  – even though every instinct of self-preservation tells us to run away from it. We all do it in different ways, wearing different uniforms and with different tools, but we all do it for the same reason – to help people, and to make the world a better, safer place.

Just now, I have learned the soldier that was shot at the National War Memorial has died. One gunman so far as been shot, and it seems there may be a second suspect unaccounted for. I am monitoring social media and watching the reaction of Canadians as they weigh in with their thoughts and feelings – mostly, they are weighing in with their feelings, and while that’s understandable, it’s not always well-advised.

Between my career in journalism and my role as a firefighter, I have attended quite a few emergency scenes. One of the things we are trained for is not giving in to developing tunnel vision. Firefighters especially are known for sometimes reacting with too much gusto, thanks to adrenaline. (Like kicking down doors when they were unlocked the whole time, for example.) But what I have learned through experience and training is to take a deep breath and get as much information as possible before acting, because consequences can last a lifetime or longer.

In the time it has taken me to write this column, I have seen people call for a total and complete end to immigration in Canada, a call for all Muslims to be put into camps until all terrorists in the country are found and detained, and a call for movement restrictions in Canada’s public places, like Parliament Hill.

Canada’s military has a long and proud history. I have not served, but both of my grandfathers did. Both were the sons of immigrants. They did not fight so that Canada could become a country that reacts out of anger and fear, one that chooses to battle back by curtailing democracy and freedom, or by redefining what it is Canada has always stood for.

Terrorist threats have always existed, in one capacity or another. Everyone remembers the FLQ, yet we did not force all Francophone citizens out of the country, even if they were separatists. At the time of this writing, we have no idea if the shooter(s) are Canadian or foreigners. We don’t know what religion they might subscribe to, or whether their motivation was religious or political in nature. For all we know, these are animal rights activists – but terror is terror.

Rural Canadians – and those in western Canada especially – can be somewhat isolated from a lot of the multiculturalism that is a large part of the Canadian identity. And let’s face it – there aren’t many mosques in our little communities. There are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world and more than one million Muslims in Canada. They are not all out to get everyone else – that is very, very clear. Radical ideology is always dangerous. We learned that with Justin Bourque who shot and killed three RCMP members in Moncton last June – and he came from an extremely Christian family.

Over the summer, we saw the threat of terrorist group ISIS rise, highlighted by the gruesome beheadings of two kidnapped journalists. It resulted in a coalition of many countries that are conducting military exercises to combat the group’s advances, and a coalition of many others that are supporting the efforts with equipment and supplies. But here’s the really important part – many individual Muslims, and many predominately Muslim nations have voiced their opposition to ISIS, supported the actions against ISIS, and even have actively participated in missions.

That’s a pretty big deal, and it represents a new era in the global war against terror. As we saw in Germany in World War Two, or in Canada with residential schools, and as Edmund Burke so aptly said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

But sometimes, “nothing” isn’t what we think. Sometimes it means not standing up for the people who need it the most – like the many Muslims living peacefully in Canada who are going to feel maligned and isolated if anti-Muslim sentiment continues to build in this nation.

Most importantly, we can’t win the war on terror only with weapons, and we can’t win it without the support of the global Muslim community. Just like any other abusive, manipulative human being, terrorist leaders – just like religious cult leaders – recruit those who feel left out of life, those who feel they have no place, no future and no family.  The absolute last thing we want to do is to create the kind of climate that encourages this kind of dangerous isolation.

I have confidence that as a nation, we will work together in this challenge and make Canada a stronger country as a result – no matter what the root of the shooting was in Ottawa. But in order to do that, we will have to resist both the fear-based knee jerk reaction, as well as the opposite end of the spectrum that fears taking any action at all. We can be patriotic while still being inclusive. We can defend our nation, but without victimizing another. We can seek justice without being unjust.

Whatever we ultimately decide to do, I know that the Canadian men and woman tasked with the job will make us proud. They always have, and they certainly did on October 22, 2014 at Parliament Hill.

All aboard Uncle Sam’s crazy train

The other award I won over the weekend at the Canadian Farm Writers’ Federation annual convention in Charlottetown was published in Alberta Beef Magazine in May, 2014. I was awarded Gold in the category of Press Column – The Frank Jacobs Award.


All aboard Uncle Sam’s crazy train

Cliven Bundy sounds like a name belonging to the star of some backwoods horror flick, but in fact, the name belongs to a very real man starring in a very scary reality show.

Bundy, a cattle rancher in Nevada, managed to mobilize some of America’s most rabid militia groups after the federal government started seizing his cattle. Many of the extremists screamed his cattle were being rounded up because the government was protecting the desert tortoise, but the truth is much more complex than that. Sadly, extremists don’t usually have much appetite for truth or context.

Bundy had been grazing cattle in areas referred to as Gold Butte and Bunkerville allotment for many years. He did own some deeded land, but relied on lease land for most of his grass, which is administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). In 1993, some of the regulations changed, which stopped grazing on Bunkerville, and reduced grazing at Gold Butte. In part, the decision was made because of the desert tortoise, but the sensitive area overall was overgrazed and the forage mismanaged.

Bunker claimed the regulation changes would force him to reduce his herd by 90 per cent, down to 150 head. He stopped paying his grazing fees for Gold Butte, and did not remove his cattle from Bunkerville. His case went to court numerous times, and each and each time he was defeated. He tried to argue he was grandfathered grazing rights, although such a thing doesn’t exist in his case. He asserted that federal lands really aren’t federal, and belong to the state of Nevada. There were appeals and new cases. The result was always the same – Bundy’s cattle were trespassing, and he wasn’t paying fees for the cattle grazing Gold Butte. In 1998 he was ordered to remove all of his cattle from all of the BLM lands and to pay up. He didn’t.

Fast forward to April of 2014 – a full 20 years since Bundy paid for any grazing rights – and an aerial survey shows he’s running about 900 head of cattle. After threatening to for 15 years, the BLM took action, impounding 400 head. And that’s when the proverbial cowpie hit the fan.

Bundy started sending letters with the catchy header, “Range War Emergency Notice and Demand for Protection” to all levels of government and solicited support from various extremist groups. A clever man, he used terms associated with the sovereign citizen movement to spur the militias into action. Much of his support base came from groups that even the Tea Party considers too hardcore… and that’s like the Pope refusing to visit a city because it has too many Catholics.

Along with presumably more balanced protestors, these militias showed up with all manner of guns – handguns, semi-automatics – you name it. In response the BLM sent law enforcement agents to help control the scene.

That’s when it started to get really crazy. Angry “sovereign citizens” threatened to disarm federal bureaucrats, and demanded the cattle be released. Protesting marksmen with sniper rifles got into position, aiming their weapons at law enforcement officers and BLM employees charged with seizing the cattle. Citizen soldiers marched along the highway, at times stopping traffic and approaching private vehicles with their loaded weapons.

By my estimation, this already tips the crazy scales and ventures very far into terror territory, but we’re not done yet. The protestors began planning their war strategy, deciding to place the women on the front line. Yes. On purpose. So they would get shot first. “If they were going to start killing people, I’m sorry, but to show the world how ruthless these people are, the women needed to be the first ones shot,” said former Nevada Sheriff Richard Mack, who supported the protest.

I have absolutely no doubt that had a shot been fired, it would have been by the crazy side first. And I don’t know what’s scarier – that a husband and father would be so captivated by extremist dogma that he would sacrifice his family, or that this husband and father was also a sheriff. After that, the BLM backed down. They released Bundy’s cattle in order to avoid bloodshed.

I can’t say whether the decision made back in 1993 to reduce grazing in the area was fair or right. I do know how sensitive that grass is – I’ve spent a lot of time in America’s Southwest – most of it after I learned about the cattle business and grass management. I also know that our ranching industry is reputed to be light years ahead of the U.S. when it comes to land stewardship, and holistic and rotational grazing. That culture doesn’t seem to be as well established in the U.S., and some of the ground I’ve seen down there certainly supports that theory.

I’ve seen a few people on my Facebook compare the Bundy standoff to the Sage-Grouse emergency protection order (EPO) issued earlier this year, but it isn’t remotely the same. For one thing, the recovery plan and almost every bit of research I have read regarding the Sage-Grouse says that light-to-moderate grazing is good for the species. Admittedly, I’m just now starting to dig into this issue, but it seems to me that the EPO is grandfathering ranching interests, as well as protecting them into the future – provided the order doesn’t change.

Considering that stocking density and methodology on our Sage-Grouse grounds haven’t changed significantly since the species started rapidly declining in the late 80s, ranching doesn’t seem like the smoking gun here. West Nile Virus and industrial development – to my interpretation anyway – seem the two culprits having the most impact. Increased predation – I can see that too. There’s been a predator/prey imbalance in this region for some time. The plains grizzly were killed out, and there are no resident wolf packs. Coyotes do a marvelous job of filling in the footprints of larger predators – and that’s not always a good thing. Pronghorn numbers are down considerably, although I don’t know how that affects the coyotes. There are more cougars traveling through the area, and we certainly know the Cypress Hills is flush with them right now. I don’t know how many may be resident outside of the Hills, but certainly, the coulees and waterways are part of the wildlife corridor the cougars (and other species) will use.

I get that we want to protect the Sage-Grouse – other than the ranchers and other folks lucky enough to live in that shortgrass prairie, no one loves it more than I do. I’d move there in a heartbeat if I could, and I adore all the wildlife that lives on the prairie… but you know what? We should have acted 15 years ago when we started noticing the decline was substantial. Perhaps had we mitigated some of the concerns then, we wouldn’t be faced with what seems an almost ludicrously heavy-handed EPO now. Still, when I read it, ranching appears to be protected and grandfathered throughout the document.

It’s not like I haven’t seen reckless decisions made by our own federal government – dismantling the PFRA a prime example – but Bundy went through the courts. Many times over. And he made absolutely zero effort to pay his grazing fees for the cattle he was permitted to graze. Nada. Zilch. The dude is a deadweight that happens to have a little charisma and the ability to appeal to extremists. He exploited the BLM’s rule changes in the ‘90s as justification to become a criminal. I just can’t see the producers I know in Saskatchewan and Alberta leveraging the Sage-Grouse EPO to shirk their responsibilities.

The BLM says they are still going to go after Bundy administratively – whatever that means. And really, the government had no choice. Righter-wing politicians and media in the U.S. were starting to compare the protests and cattle seizure to Tiananmen Square. That in itself is baffling and upsetting. The BLM was enforcing several court orders, and had delayed doing so for years. They did not prohibit the protests, nor were they the first ones to bring weapons to the party. And let’s not forget there were armed men with sniper rifles aimed at BLM heads. At Tiananmen Square, the citizens were armed with nothing but their voices, and they were shot down like dogs in the street for using them. That is a far cry from what went down at the Bundy Standoff.

Bundy continues to get away with his illegal activity. How nice that through the worst years of the business he was able to hitch a free ride for his cattle on the backs of the other thousands of ranchers who paid their grazing fees.

The Sage-Grouse issue is a worthy one for us as an industry to look at and examine carefully, and there were some disturbing precedent-setting actions taken by the government.  But the Bundy standoff is a completely different animal, and it’s important that we address our own challenges in our own country without that fanatical edge which has become so synonymous with America as of late. Our ranching lobby is powerful, but if we give ourselves over to this militia mentality madness, we’ll lose both our voice and our credibility – and those are the two most valuable industry assets we have.

Sadly, the whole Bundy debacle has caused much of the U.S. and a lot of Canada to view Bundy’s cause as a case of cowboys and government – and the cowboy is getting a black eye on account of it. Bundy and his gun-toting, hat-wearing bandits are the furthest thing from the kind of cowboys I know. Real ranchers don’t line up their families to be shot. They do what’s right – and that means standing up for what’s right without committing a wrong. I have a lot of names for Bundy and his ilk, but “cowboy” isn’t one of them.

Interview with an activist

Over the weekend, I won two awards at the annual Canadian Farm Writers’ Federation convention held this year in Charlottetown, PEI.

In the category of Monthly Press Reporting – The Jack Cram Award, I won Bronze for my work in the Western Hog Journal, of which I am editor. This award was won for an interview conducted with the leader of Mercy For Animals Canada, the organization responsible for several recent undercover video investigations at livestock operations across the nation.

I should note that it was a very pleasant, professional interview. I made no bones about my own position in support of meat consumption, the humane treatment of livestock animals for consumption, and hunting. The dialogue was respectful, and while I obviously do not advocate veganism, I absolutely believe that industry needs to continue to improve on welfare and handling issues. We have improved a great deal, and I believe we will continue to do so.

The following article was published in the fall 2013 edition of the Western Hog Journal.


Interview with an activist – a rare glimpse at the other side of the issue

For better or for worse, animal activists will always be part of the agricultural landscape, but can we learn from them?

In December of 2012, video secretly taken at a Manitoba hog operation was released to the media. It was recorded by an undercover investigator working for Mercy For Animals Canada, who posed as a worker at the facility.

While the new code of practice for pigs was already being worked on when video was released, it catapulted the issue of sow stalls onto the public’s radar, and is credited with accelerating retailer’s demands for future group housing.

Stephane Perrais, the director of operations for Mercy For Animals Canada, agreed to grant Western Hog Journal’s Sheri Monk a candid interview about the video, and his take on Canada’s pork industry.


The video begins with eerie, unsettling music in the background, and as the camera pans across the sows in stalls, a female voice begins to narrate.

“The footage you are about to see was recorded with a hidden camera by a Mercy For Animals Canada investigator.”

The camera then cuts to a piglet being slammed to the concrete floor by a worker, then to a sow with an eye infection. The voice continues, “It was shot at a Manitoba pig factory farm that supplies pork to WalMart, Superstore, Loblaw, and Metro.”

The video’s title, “Crated Cruelty” is splashed across the screen, and the sows in stalls return.

“Thousands of pregnant pigs are confined to filthy gestation crates so small, they are unable to even turn around or lie down comfortably for their entire lives. Driven mad from stress and boredom, these naturally curious and social animals have noting to do day after day, hour after hour, but to bite the bars of their cages out of desperation.”

It’s only four minutes long, but with seamless edits and high production values, the film is packs a punch – which was exactly what it was designed to do. Less than five months after it was released, the Retail Council of Canada announced that some of its major retailer members were voluntarily phasing out the stalls by 2022. Those retailers included Co-op Atlantic, Canada Safeway, Costco Wholesale Canada, Federated Co-operatives Limited, Loblaw Companies Limited, Metro Inc., Sobeys Inc., and Walmart Canada.

“The aim of our investigation was not just to reveal certain practices which were absolutely egregious animal cruelty, but also to make people understand that a lot of the practices they witnessed in this footage were actually considered standing operating procedures from the industry,” Perrais said.

The announcement of the 2022 retail phase-out came somewhat as a surprise to the hog industry in Canada. After all, the Retail Council of Canada was actively engaged with the National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC) as one of the stakeholders helping to develop the new pig code of practice. When the draft code was released on June 1 – a little more than a month after the Retail Council made its announcement – it proposed phasing out sow stalls by 2024. Did the undercover video trigger the decision? Perrais is confident it did.

“I think the investigation was a catalyst, and it certainly helped speed up the process,” he said.

As with any visual presentation designed to trigger emotions, it’s just often the context and background that causes a reaction as much as the actual content, and “Crated Cruelty” was no exception. Although plenty of the video was genuinely off-putting, much of the video showed current industry standards – perhaps executed poorly – but the public lack the context to know what current standards are, or why they are employed.

“I know the industry has condemned some of these practices, such as pulling a sow by its ears, or kicking a sow or jumping up and down on a sow after it was killed,” said Perrais. “And I think not only was the public shocked by those images, but also shocked to learn that certain things that we demonstrated such as the castration of piglets without anesthetics, or the thumping of a sick piglet against a concrete wall or floor to kill them – these practices are standard in the industry.”

Retailers fear visceral public reactions, and once such a reaction has begun, it can be very difficult for the meat industry to back away from. Animal husbandry is a complicated business, and it’s not easy to explain to the public why castration without anesthetic is performed, or that animal welfare was one of the reasons sow stalls were introduced in the first place.

“I think that’s what really brought it to the forefront is a lot of people were shocked to realize that not only was there an issue pertaining to the extreme confinement of these animals, but also that all these other practices were the industry standard,” Perrais explained.


Retailers were pressured

Perrais says that in Canada, there aren’t a lot of options open to animal rights organizations like there are in some states south of the border. There, he says, voters can have referendums at election time on any issue and through that mechanism, animal rights agendas have been forwarded, such as banning confinement practices.

“Unfortunately, we do not have that ability in the current Canadian system. The biggest agents for change were the grocers themselves because of their purchasing power,” he said.

Before and after the investigation, retailers in Canada were approached by Mercy For Animals Canada and asked to stop supporting confinement practices in the hog industry by publicly stating their opposition to it. Several companies in the U.S. had already taken that step, including McDonald’s in 2012.

“We felt that the Canadians were just a step behind, and that they could also make a similar commitment. They refused and so we kept up the pressure,” said Perrais.

When contacted, Perrais said the retailers would respond by stating their affiliation with the Retail Council of Canada, and the work that was being done to modernize the pig code. Meanwhile, Mercy for Animals kept on them, informing them whenever another big company would come out against the stalls. In Canada, Olymel and Maple Leaf announced their intentions to phase them out, and Perrais feels the campaign gathered even more momentum then.

“We went back to the grocers and said even some of the producers themselves think that systems have to go. I think after a while they did come to the realization that it was not sustainable in the long run to continue hiding behind the Retail Council,” he explained.


Will the new code be enough?

When Perrais was interviewed, the draft code hadn’t yet been released, but he was confident it would include a phase-out of the stalls. However, he was adamant that even if the new code does discontinue use of sow stalls, it wouldn’t be enough to protect the animals because at the end of the day, producers are not bound by law to follow it.

“Some of the footage that we documented, if it was done to a cat or a dog, it would be considered animal cruelty. Castrating your pet in the backyard or cutting its tail off without anesthetic or just deciding to thump it against the wall because it was sick, those would be animal cruelty charges if it was a domestic animal. But because they are farm animals and they have absolutely no legal protection whatsoever in Canada, anything can be done to them during the course of their life,” said Perrais. “As long as they are not mandated and not enforced, and there are no penalties attached to it whether they are financial penalties or jail time, no, it’s not really enforceable because then you can basically do what you want.”

While Canada’s codes of practice aren’t enforceable by law, they can be used as the standards used to benchmark appropriate care in cases where provincial entities may be investigating animal neglect.

“There are only two federal laws that pertain to farm animals. One of them is called the Meat Inspection Act and deals with the slaughter process, but it mostly deals with the design and all the issues pertaining to the slaughter process and the other one deals with the transportation of farm animals. The only time the animals are subject to federal law is during their transport to slaughter and during the slaughter process, and both of those laws are extremely weak,” he said.


An uncertain future with or without stalls

Even without the added economic burden of having to invest in new group housing infrastructure, pork producers in Canada have been struggling. An industry-wide exodus continues and smaller producers throw in the towel out of desperation and consolidation of the business continues. Many people fear the sow stall phase-out will become the final nail in the coffin for struggling producers – many of which are family farms. But Perrais is not buying that story because he says the pork industry’s infrastructure is aging after an expansion boom in the ‘90s, and current facilities are nearing the end of their lifespan.

“If you look at our footage closely, you’ll notice that a lot of the gestation crates that we filmed were all rusted. There was filth everywhere. The walls, the floor – everything was covered with filth. I can understand that people will hang onto certain systems, but the need to convert to group housing is something that they will have to absorb sometime in the next decade, and we don’t consider these new or unexpected costs,” he said.

Perrais attributes much of today’s economic strife in the business to the economies of scale that have become prevalent throughout agriculture.

“What I would say to the small family farms, and what I would say to you who advocates for them, is that we haven’t started this demise. It was started many years ago when factory farms were started and agricultural groups such as Maple Leaf and Cargill and all these other ones decided to integrate a lot of their operations. We are saying that the practices that they decided to undertake are completely abusive and extremely cruel, and we are focusing on them because 95-99 per cent of the food (from animals) that’s produced in Canada is raised in factory farms.”

He also says the model of constantly trying to decrease pricing at the retail level has changed the landscape.

“They can moan and be grumpy about animal activists, but ultimately, they should really realize that the problem lies with these big, big corporations that have slowly but surely put pressure on price. They are constantly putting pressure on prices, but you also then have to ask the consumer and citizen if they want to live in a civilized and compassionate society, and what price are they willing to pay for it.”


Philosophical differences

The bottom line is that Mercy For Animals Canada and other animal activist groups don’t just want an end to sow stalls – they want an end to meat, period. In fact, they advocate for veganism, which is an entirely plant-based diet, free of any animal products, including dairy and eggs. Yet, despite their complete lack of participation in animal husbandry as a consumer, animal rights organizations do influence policy.

According the NFACC, Canada is unique in its development of codes of practice, and the process and the subsequent standards assist in stabilizing livestock production against extremist pressure.

“It almost seems that as we’ve learned more and more about these animals, we’ve decided to confine them more and more. And today I think we’ve come to a point where it’s no longer tenable to have such a position with all the knowledge about the sentience and the awareness these animals have. We cannot just view them like we used to in the 16th or 17th century as robots that are devoid of any emotions, but that they are actually living, breathing and feeling creatures,” he said.

For people like Perrais, the animal rights movement is a life-long struggle against injustice and cruelty. For farmers, it’s viewed as one of the biggest threats to their future, and the future of their communities. What happens in the future will largely depend on the public, and how the public perceives livestock production into the future. The battle for the heart and stomach of consumers won’t be fought in the boardroom, or even in the pages of an industry magazine like this one. It’s a war that’s already hit the streets, and it’s hard to imagine a truce.

“Through the ad campaign that we launched, we’re trying to make people realize that these animals are true living beings that have a whole range of emotions, that they’re as conscious and aware as we are, and just because we can’t communicate with them in a language, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t treat them with utmost respect,” Perrais said.

Many animal activists use the term ‘speciesism’ to describe the inequality of how animals are treated. The term is applied in the same way that racism and sexism are used, and is based upon the notion that every species – not just humans – are entitled to personhood.

It’s difficult to imagine a middle ground where meat producers and vegans could break bread together, but the livestock industry is increasingly concerning itself with animal welfare concerns brought forward by activist groups. In 2011, precedent was set when the United Egg Producers of the U.S. announced they had made a deal with the Humane Society of the United States to seek a federal law requiring larger cages and better conditions for all laying hens in the country. The United Egg Producers were lambasted by other livestock producers for making a deal with the devil, and HSUS was viewed by many activists as traitors for doing the same.

While there haven’t been as many animal rights undercover investigations in Canada as there have been in the U.S., there’s little doubt there will be others in the future.

“Nothing is off limits as far as we’re concerned. Our first investigation just happened to be in a pig breeding facility, but all of the animal production industry is on our radar, absolutely,” Perrais said.

In some ways, the extremism of the animal rights movement has in part insulated livestock production. Very public protests by organizations such as PETA are sometimes so outrageous that the moderate middle is alienated by them. Meat consumers often aren’t sure of the difference between a vegetarian or a vegan, and why some vegetarians will eat some animal products and not others. It’s a question that even perplexes Perrais, and he is an avid vegan.

“If you look back at the history of the words ‘veganism’ and ‘vegetarianism,’ they were one and the same, but over the years I think the word vegetarian sort-of got hijacked by people who were not eating meat, but were eating fish and dairy products,” he explained. “Honestly, I really don’t understand why people would continue to eat fish and dairy and eggs. I think it’s because a lot of the studies that have been done fish are considered as being a completely different type of animal, it’s much more difficult for us to relate to them.”

Like other animal rights groups, Mercy For Animals Canada tries to engage the public with advertising to make them reconsider their choice to eat animals. But given the chance, would they eliminate the choice entirely?

“Making meat illegal? That’s the first time I’ve heard the question. Ultimately, we would like to see meat consumption decline tremendously, but whether making meat illegal is the way forward… I’m not really sure that’s the best avenue,” said Perrais, who emphasized that if people switch to veganism, they’re more likely to stick with it if they are doing it for ethical reasons.

“Making it illegal would be great, but I don’t see that happening, and I don’t know if that ultimately would result in the right effect because it’s almost like Big Brother showing up and telling them what to do. But if you educate the people, then the decision becomes theirs, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

And so it goes – XL Foods loses the plant.

As expected, the XL Foods was unable to retain the plant.
To be honest, I’d have been more surprised if they did.

No doubt they made errors and that plant wasn’t running as clean as it should have.
I don’t know the nature of their transgressions, but I intend to find out. That context will be necessary going forward to determine how appropriate CFIA’s reaction has been.

I am still working – fervently – on this story.

I know we all woke up this morning breathing a little easier, but we are not out of the woods yet. JBS can take this plant for a test drive and if they don’t like the way she handles, (or they don’t like the way CFIA handles her) we could come to a screeching halt yet again.

We need to get to the bottom of this – for the good of the industry, for the good of consumers, and certainly, a closer look at exactly what happened and why will be good for this government, and the CFIA.

Next week, I will be posting questions I have asked the CFIA, and the very few and scantily-clad answers they provided. Please stay tuned.