Jessica Scott-Reid is Canadian a freelance writer and animal advocate.
In true Canadian form, all most of us can talk about these days is the incredible cold: the inconveniences it creates for daily life, the harm it causes to the homeless, even the devastation it brings to pets left outdoors.
But far from the minds of most cold Canadians is how such extreme temperatures are effecting the hundreds of thousands of farmed animals confined to open-sided transport trucks, travelling across the country for up to 52 hours at a time.
As Canadians continue to enjoy their burgers and steaks, sausages and wings, they likely don't give any consideration to their own contribution to this routine suffering. Right now, animals are suffering from frostbite, food and water deprivation and death by freezing. And it's all perfectly legal.
When asked directly, the majority of Canadians do care about the treatment of animals bred and killed for their food. In a 2015 poll conducted by NRG Research Group, eight out of 10 Canadians agreed that animal-transport regulations should be updated to reduce the suffering of animals, including protecting them from extreme hot and cold weather. Today, those regulations are over 40 years old, and obviously do not reflect the current interests of Canadians.
Condemned by animal advocates as the worst in the Western world, Canada's farmed-animal-transport regulations permit incredible suffering, and this becomes most apparent during times of extreme weather.
The regulations pale in comparison to European standards, where rules for farmed-animal transport dictate that cows be transported for a maximum of 14 hours before being allowed rest and water, compared with 52 hours in Canada; pigs can travel up to 24 hours, compared with 36 in Canada; and chickens – the most vulnerable and susceptible to injury and death in cold weather – can only travel for 12 hours, compared with 36 hours in frigid Canada. The European regulations are currently under review to be even further improved upon by the end of this year.
Additionally, vehicles used to transport farmed animals across Europe – where weather conditions are typically less extreme than in Canada – are commonly enclosed, with mechanical ventilation and climate controls, to ensure temperatures not fall below 5 C or go above 30 C. Monitoring, recording and warning systems are also required, to alert drivers when temperatures inside the vehicle reach those limits.
Meanwhile, just last week, animal-rights groups Toronto Pig Save and Toronto Cow Save each livestreamed videos on their social-media pages showing animals arriving at area slaughterhouses in open-sided vehicles, exposed to the winter elements.
That's because in the Great White North, there are no regulations specifying a temperature below which animals cannot be transported. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency's (CFIA) Cold Weather Notice: Humane Transport and Animal Welfare only offers guidelines for transporting animals in cold weather, but states nothing at all regarding specific temperatures.
The CFIA estimates that over 1.5 million farmed animals arrive dead following transport each year. In 2015, a story about Canada's largest slaughterhouse, Maple Lodge Farms, made headlines after undercover video from animal-rights group Mercy for Animals showed staff describing chickens arriving frozen solid like "hockey pucks" and "popsicles."
And still, none of this has offered any motivation to lawmakers to update regulations to decrease such incredible suffering and death.
As Canadians are left to wait until legislators care about freezing farmed animals, we are not powerless. Consumers can make a difference by opting out of supporting the industries that cause this suffering and help lessen the demand for more of it in the future. Thankfully, as market research shows, the incredible increase in plant-based meat and dairy alternatives now available in Canada has made it easier than ever to avoid inherently cruel animal products.
The next time we endure the Canadian cold – shivering our way from a heated car to a heated grocery store – we should give a thought for the tens of thousands of animals enduring that very same cold, but without anywhere warm to run.