By Tom Collins
GUELPH — Canadian farmers are losing the publicity battle against animal activists, warns the president of the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity, formerly known as Farm & Food Care Canada.
Late in 2018, the centre released online survey results from a cross-section of 1,509 Canadians about the perception of Canada’s food chain. Some of the findings regarding agriculture include:
• The overall concern for the humane treatment of farm animals was at 49 per cent, up from 40 per cent in 2017.
• Only 31 per cent of Canadians strongly agree that Canadian meat is derived from humanely-treated farm animals.
• About 32 per cent said videos of farm animals being treated poorly are not representative of normal livestock farming. Twelve per cent thought the videos were indicative of normal farm practices and 56 per cent were “unsure.”
The centre’s president, Crystal Mackay, said these numbers are signs that farmers need to stop playing defence against animal activists.
“(Activists) are hard core,” said Mackay. “They’re protesting together. They’re putting stickers on meat in stores. The people that are against animal agricultural are very passionate about it and they’re volunteering their time and putting money into it. So what do we need to do to be equally passionate?”
In late 2015, for example, a woman posted a five-minute YouTube video titled Dairy is Scary. She says when cows are artificially inseminated, they are put in a “rape rack” (although she then shows a picture of a rotary milking parlour, which is a common efficient milking system that cows line up for to get relief from full udders). She also wrongly says that pus and blood in milk are common. She shows clips of cows being dragged through barns and kicked by workers. The video has 5.1 million views and was still averaging 2,100 views a day as of the end of January.
“It’s edgy, and every negative argument against dairy in a five-minute video,” said Mackay. “If we take every effort that is being undertaken to share the good news about animal welfare in our country and added it up, it wouldn’t equal that video. This is our competition for hearts and minds around how we care for animals in this country. Our voice is almost non-existent.”
Mackay said no one should be surprised by the erosion in trust, as the average Canadian with no connection to a livestock farmer has seen undercover videos and animal transport-related issues as the only animal welfare news in the last five years.
She said farmers and agricultural organizations need to take a step back and realize their current efforts are either not being heard or not using the right messengers.
Mackay said everyone involved in the food chain needs to step up to tell the farmers’ side. She encouraged farmers to be more vocal about what they do, especially on social media.
She also said farm organizations need to find more money and new ways to reach more people.
“What has our sector done differently to step up and really turn up the volume significantly on what we are doing to care for animals?” she said. “When an undercover video comes out, you’re playing defence. You’re never going to win a hockey game only playing defence with a great goalie. If we want to score some goals, we’ve got to put some money on the table and buy some bigger proactive efforts.”
The survey was conducted by Ipsos Canada. They have about 200,000 Canadians representing all cultures, age groups and economic classes that are available for online surveys to get a representation of how Canadians feel on certain topics.