Throughout this global pandemic crisis causing millions to fall ill with Covid-19, your Winnipeg Humane Society has been focusing on serving our community and sharing shelter stories that are uplifting and warm our hearts. There is, unfortunately, one difficult aspect we must also talk about: farm animal welfare and its link to the industrialized and hyper-concentrated meat processing industry. Our meat food chain is inhumane and unsustainable, and we must change it now.
A few weeks ago, media began reporting about Covid-19 infection hotspots in many meat processing plants, first in the United States, and almost immediately after in Canada, most notably Alberta and British Columbia.
Countries around the globe have come to a standstill, urging their citizens to stay indoors in an attempt to mitigate the spread of this highly contagious novel coronavirus. Industrialized meat production plants have been deemed an essential service, we all need food on our tables. And as these workers continue to do their jobs, journalists are documenting the harm being caused to these essential workers, humans and animals alike.
First and foremost, our thoughts and our best wishes go to every single person affected by this virus. Not only are many ill with a disease that we know little about, livelihoods are also being affected because if not sick, many will be laid off.
Why are these facilities such hot spots for viral outbreaks?
Simply put, workers at slaughterhouse facilities that are mass producing meat products have no ability to social distance themselves and protect their families during this terrifying crisis. In fact, not only are the families of workers now at risk, a coronavirus outbreak at the Seasons High River Retirement Home in Alberta has been traced back to Covid-19 positive staff members who also live with slaughterhouse workers. This pandemic has pulled back the curtains on the inhumane, appalling conditions our livestock endure, alongside the cramped, incredibly dangerous working conditions staff must cope with.
We have transformed our meat production system into a purely economic-driven enterprise, where production cost is the single most important element to consider. Animals and workers are economic units of a massive, factory-style food system. This must change.
Animals are being confined in large operations in inhumane conditions and without the ability to express any natural behaviours. Then they are transported for very large distances in cramped spaces with very little access to water or food, no matter the weather. And these animals end up in massive processing plants in which humans are also putting their lives at risk.
If animal and human welfare was not a sufficient argument to support an immediate change, food security is another important aspect. By concentrating food production in very large plants, any shutdown can lead to food shortages. All of the above issues are interconnected and are part of a system that is no longer sustainable.
As a leading, national animal welfare organization, the Winnipeg Humane Society has been on the public record expressing our dismay at North America’s meat production systems which render animals and workers alike into economic units. When productivity and profitability are put above all else, the welfare of both the animals and workers suffers immensely. As many of our supporters are likely aware, animals like chickens and pigs raised on factory farms are kept indoors at all times, all natural behaviours completely denied, with little to no room to move – let alone walk. Current industry husbandry practices allow for these animals to be seen as objects, not sentient, intelligent beings with personalities, and this needs to change.
We must do better. The Winnipeg Humane Society is calling for immediate regulatory and policy changes both at the provincial and federal levels to stop the cruelty of this system and ensure better food security. These policies should include:
- Restrictions on the size of meat processing plants.
- Enhanced protections for animals being slaughtered and for workers processing the meat.
- Transportation rules must be further enhanced with stricter limits in terms of distance and animal welfare.
- A new framework where tax incentives are directed to small, locally owned meat production facilities which will create a more resilient food system, and
- Direct support to small-scale farms where animals are able to be outdoors and exhibit all their natural behaviours.
Animals are not widgets. Workers are not economic production units. We need a more humane food production system, now more than ever.
Be well, everyone.