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Rising flood waters surround buildings in Abbotsford, B.C., Nov. 16, 2021.JONATHAN HAYWARD/The Canadian Press

Jessica Scott-Reid is a Winnipeg-based writer and animal advocate. She is also a co-host of Paw & Order, a Canadian animal law podcast produced by Animal Justice.

Last week, Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun described how the smell of decay, likely from dead farmed animals, had begun lingering around the flooded areas of British Columbia. He choked up as he spoke of how small calves, trapped in tiny hutches, had drowned. And he called the efforts of farmers in their attempts to remove animals from the disaster area “heroic.”

Quite immediately, reaction to these “rescue” stories and the heart-wrenching photos of animals trapped, terrified and dying in the frigid waters, was divided.

Animal advocates were quick to point out the hypocrisy of applauding farmers for saving animals that were destined for slaughter anyhow. And on the other side, a viral post on social media called out PETA and Animal Justice for not running to the scene to help, demanding that the advocates help fund extraction efforts.

Emotions undoubtedly run high when there are helpless animals being held in cages, hutches and warehouses, and the water is rushing in.

Pointing fingers at individual farmers or animal advocates is a natural reaction. But when the waters eventually recede, and the carcasses are all cleaned up, what will remain to be blamed is a massively flawed animal agriculture system.

Ethically, environmentally and financially, our current method of farming hundreds of millions of animals each year is set up to fail. The drowning of animals in B.C. is just further proof.

Heat, fires, floods: The world’s climate future hits British Columbia

According to the National Farm Animal Care Council code of practice, which is created and overseen largely by the agriculture industry itself, farmers are supposed to develop a plan for evacuating animals in the event of an emergency. That plan, according to the council’s website, “should include consideration of emergency housing, transportation and personnel.”

But because these codes are essentially voluntary, and because there are no actual laws in Canada governing the everyday treatment of animals on farms, there is no real need to have this evacuation plan in place ­­– as we have seen.

And let’s be real, removing hundreds of thousands of animals from one place to another when disaster strikes, and finding somewhere safe to rehouse them, is not realistic. It’s certainly not economical and that’s really what this is about. For many commercial farmers, these animals are products, investments and their loss is perhaps felt more in their owners’ pocketbooks than in their hearts.

We also cannot say that this disaster really took us by surprise. Extreme weather is no longer rare. Just look at the “heat dome” that affected B.C. this past summer, taking the lives of at least 651,000 farmed animals. We had been warned by environmental experts for years that this was coming.

We have even been told that climate change is caused, in part, by the very animal agriculture industry we are now supposed to be rallying behind. Globally, animal agriculture is responsible for nearly 15 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions, according to the United Nations. It is a leading contributor to deforestation, fresh water pollution, ocean degradation and biodiversity loss.

A 2018 study published in the journal Nature called on Western countries, including Canada, to reduce beef and pork consumption by 90 per cent, poultry and milk by 60 per cent, and to replace that with four to six times more beans and pulses to help keep current food systems within environmental limits.

GoFundMe pages have been set up to help B.C. farmers in need. Federal and provincial governments have already pledged financial help. This is on top of the billions of dollars of public money already funnelled into animal farming in just the past two years. That includes a gift of more than $1.75-billion over eight years starting in 2019 from the federal government to dairy farmers, a $6-million investment to help promote pork exports, and $691-million for egg and chicken farmers. All the while, meat and dairy prices continue to soar.

So before we consider paying to rebuild those B.C. animal farms, let us think about what we are really funding: more climate chaos, more economic drain, more inadequate animal welfare policy, and more human and animal suffering.

Thankfully, there is a way to make animal farmers the real heroes of this story: by taking this disaster as a signal that it is time to change this falling system.

There are other options. Just last week, Canada became home to the largest pea protein plant in the world, with Manitoba being dubbed the potential Silicon Valley of plant-based protein. In the Abbotsford area, the land is lush for growing nuts, berries and even the most expensive spice in the world, saffron.

Ultimately, our planet does not need any more dairy or chicken farms. The more we keep propping up the animal agriculture sector in this country, the more Mother Nature is going to come for us.

Now that’s something to get choked up about.

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