I take my beloved dog George with me almost everywhere I go. Once, George even shared the stage with me on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.
The bond I have with George is not unique. Like me, countless Canadians share their homes and lives with pets they consider to be part of the family. We know that they have individual personalities and quirks (George loves apples, for example) and that they feel both physical and mental pain.
Our pets share these traits with other animals; including those we don’t share our lives with, such as farm animals. As primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall has noted, “Farm animals feel pleasure and sadness, excitement and resentment, depression, fear and pain. They are far more aware and intelligent than we ever imagined … they are individuals in their own right.”
Pigs, specifically, outperform even chimpanzees on some tests of cognitive prowess.
So of course these animals also deserve our care and attention. That’s why I was so heartened to learn that Canada is taking steps toward improving the treatment of animals in the food supply.
Specifically, Canada’s National Farm Animal Care Council, which sets regulations for Canada’s agricultural system when it comes to how animals are treated, recently released a draft code of practice for the pork industry to follow. Within this draft code is a mandate that the pork industry stop relegating, for nearly their entire lives, mother pigs to tiny cages so small they can’t even turn around.
Currently, mother pigs are kept in these cages called “gestation crates” for four months while pregnant, moved to another cage to give birth, reimpregnated and put back into a gestation crate for the cycle to repeat. It adds up to years of immobilization and millions of smart, inquisitive animals relegated to iron maidens.
The process has been criticized by veterinarians, animal protection advocates, consumers and even major food retailers as inhumane and unnecessary. Tim Hortons, for example, announced recently that it is working – alongside 60 other major food companies – to eliminate these cages from their supply chain entirely.
While NFACC’s progress is important and laudable, there is a major loophole in the code that I hope will be closed. As written, the draft still allows the pork industry to lock pigs in gestation crates for up to five weeks at a time. Over a pig’s short life, which is just four years long, this amounts to about nine months of solitary confinement in a cage so small she can’t even turn her own body around.
Pigs in tiny crates suffer beyond anything most of us can easily imagine. They are unable even to turn around for weeks at a time, so that their muscles and bones deteriorate. And these extremely social and intelligent animals lose their minds from being denied any social or psychological stimulation at all.
I applaud NFACC for working to improve life for Canada’s pigs, and I join Farm Sanctuary and Humane Society International in asking that it close this dangerous loophole by prohibiting the pork industry from confining pigs for weeks at a time – something I would never dream of doing to George, and that no compassionate Canadian would ever do to any animal.
Ryan Gosling is a Canadian actor, director, writer, musician and animal advocate.