Animal Welfare at Processing
Meat processing plants in BC must meet provincial and federal animal handling regulations which are amongst the highest in the world. These regulations ensure that animals are humanely handled and processed.
The regulations include:
– The use of tools to handle animals
– An animal health assessment at arriva
– Pen densities and safety
– Access to water upon arrival
– Feeding requirements
Those establishments with a government meat inspector on site during processing have their animal welfare practices monitored by the inspector. Many BC processors are also third-party certified for animal welfare.
Toys for Livestock?
Did you know that there are toys specifically designed for livestock to improve their living conditions and to encourage the demonstration of natural behaviours? There are even companies that focus on these environmental enrichment toys!
Pigs are naturally curious and social animals and are highly motivated to explore their. Benefits of pig toys include:
– Reduces stress
– Reduces boredom
– Reduces the frequency of aggressive behaviour
– Increases the pig’s ability to deal with challenges more naturally
– Broadens their range of behaviours
– Improves production performance
Adding a mirror for isolated cows and other species has shown to improve their overall health. Even a photo of another same-species animal can help!
Codes of Practice for BC Farm Animals
In BC, livestock producers follow the National Farm Animal Care Council of Canada Codes of Practice for the care and handling of farm animals. These Codes of Practice cover the animal’s environment, feed and water, animal health, husbandry, transportation and euthanasia practices.
The Codes include Requirements which are either a regulatory requirement, or an industry-imposed expectation outlining acceptable and unacceptable practices relating to the care of animals. Requirements, at minimum, are to be implemented by all persons responsible for farm animal care. There are also Recommended Practices that complement the Code’s Requirements. Recommendations promote producer education and encourage the adoption of practices for continuous improvement in animal welfare.
BC ranchers and farmers meet and exceed these practices.
Animal Welfare in BC
Our BC farmers and processors care about animal welfare and most exceed the Codes of Practice. You can help support and understand the animal welfare practices of BC farmers by following them on social media, on our BCMeats website and Facebook page.
Understand what practices qualify for animal welfare certification and support our hard-working BC farmers who have a passion for improving the lives of the animals they raise.
Animal Spacing Requirements During Transport
Transport loading densities depend on a number of factors including, but not limited to, animal size, body condition, presence of horns and weather conditions. Animals should be provided with enough floor space in the vehicle to maintain their balance and change position within the compartment and they must be able to stand in a normal posture without coming into contact with the roof or the upper deck of the vehicle (the amount of headroom also depends on the animal species). During transport, animals require sufficient floor space to allow for adequate ventilation and a reasonable level of comfort.
* Consideration is given to the size and type of animal, number in the group loaded, construction of the trailer or container and useable floor space
* Large animals can be loaded safely at higher loading densities than small animals of the same species based on weight per unit area of floor space and area per animal|
* Some animals, such as cattle and horses, are transported standing, while others, such as deer, swine and poultry are transported lying down. Lower loading densities are used for animals that are transported lying down.
* In hot humid weather animals require more ventilation during transport to prevent dangerous levels of heat buildup. During hot weather the loading density is decreased.
Physical features of animals such as horns or wool can affect safe loading densities. Animal handlers evaluate recommended loading densities in light of these characteristics*
General Requirements for the Transport of Animals
To help protect animals during transport, the transporter’s requirements include:
– Having the knowledge, skills and training to transport the specific species
– Having contingency plans in place to manage unforeseen delays or circumstances
– Assessing animals for fitness before transport
– Isolating animals that are incompatible with each other
– Monitoring animals and risk factors during transport
– Using loading and unloading ramps and equipment that can bear the weight of the animals, equipped with adequate side rails and a surface that is designed, constructed and maintained to prevent the animals from slipping
– Using containers and transport vehicles designed, constructed and maintained for the animals being transported
– Using appropriate handling aids (for example, sorting boards) that do not excite the animal, cause injury or suffering
– Providing adequate space and headroom for animals to be in a natural position and to be able to reposition themselves for balance and safety during transport
Transporting in cold and hot weather
In BC, anyone involved in handling or transporting animals must take appropriate measures to protect animals from extreme temperatures and to ensure that no part of the journey is likely to cause suffering, injury or death.
During the winter months, extra measures are taken to help protect every animal from the cold temperature and elements. These can include:
– Adjusting the load density
– Providing additional bedding or insulation
– Increasing weather protection for animals on vehicles
– Monitoring weather conditions closely and adjusting protection accordingly
When the weather is hot and humid, extra measures are taken to protect every animal from potential suffering, injury, or death that would be caused by, or made worse by, inadequate ventilation and weather conditions. Special attention is given to pigs and poultry because they do not have sweat glands and are therefore very sensitive to heat stress. These extra measures may include:
– Delaying loading and transport during extremely hot periods
– Reducing loading density
– Having contingency plans for events that can occur such as a traffic jam, mechanical breakdown, or accident
– Always providing sufficient ventilation, including when the vehicle is stopped
– Monitoring weather conditions closely and adjusting ventilation accordingly
– Parking vehicles containing animals in the shade when it is necessary to stop
Animal Transfer of Care
To ensure continuity of care for animals in BC, no animal is to be left at an auction mart, independent holding facility, packing plant or other assembly centre without written documentation that care has been transferred between the transporter and the receiver. This is done to ensure that the individual responsible for caring for the animals can be clearly identified at all times.
Included in this documentation is the condition of the animal upon arrival, the date; time and place of the last feed, water and rest; and the date, time and place of arrival.
It is critical that animals are not left without confirming that someone is responsible for providing care for them
Fitness to transport
Producers in BC care about the animals they raise, and these high standards of animal welfare are maintained as the animals are assessed for transport from the farm. BC follows guidelines developed for deciding on the fitness of an animal to transport. All those involved in transporting animals either directly or indirectly have the responsibility to assess animals for fitness, then select, prepare and load only animals that are fit for the intended journey. There are 3 levels of assessment used: Fit, Compromised and Unfit.
Animals fit for transport:
Animals are fit for transport when there are no signs of illness or poor health. This means:
– The animals are bright, alert, moving and breathing normally
– The animals are in good body condition
– The animals are able to bear weight evenly on all limbs
– The animals are free from signs of disease
Compromised animals do not handle the stress of transportation well. They should only be transported short distances to get care, treatment, to be humanely euthanized or slaughtered. They should be separated from other animal during transport and all measures must be taken to prevent suffering and injury.
A compromised animal includes, but not limited to, the following:
– The animal has acute frostbite
– The animal is blind in both eyes
– The animal has a deformity or fully-healed amputation without signs of pain
– The animal is not fully healed after a procedure, including dehorning
– The animal has any other signs of infirmity, illness, injury or of a condition that indicates that it has reduced capacity to withstand transport
Animals that are unfit must not be transported except to receive veterinary care on the advice and guidance of a veterinarian. There are many conditions that results in an animal considered unfit for transport.
An unfit animal includes, but not limited to, the following:
– The animal cannot walk on its own
– The animal shows pain or suffering when it walks
– The animal is extremely thin
– The animal has signs of a fever
– The animal has a severe wound
– The animal shows any other signs of infirmity, illness, injury, or a condition that indicates that it cannot be transported without suffering
Animal Welfare Certification Labels
There are many different animal welfare labels, such as ‘Animal Welfare Approved’, ‘Animal Welfare Certified’ and ‘Certified Humane’. It’s hard to know which ones truly have a positive impact on the welfare of farm animals. Here’s how you can keep farm animal welfare at the top of your priority list:
Check for certified animal welfare labels that:
– Certifies farms that raise farm animals to higher standards of animal welfare than the minimum National Farm Animal Care Council of Canada Codes of Practice
– Verifies their standards are being met through inspections of farms, carried out by independent third-party auditors
– Provides transparency to consumers as their standards are posted online for public viewing
Although some BC farmers and ranchers may not be certified humane by a third party, they still can follow excellent animal practices. Ensuring proper animal welfare practices not only benefits farm animals in BC, but also benefits BC consumers as they can buy with confidence.
Terms Used When Raising Animals
Although these terms are not certified or regulated, they do demonstrate higher animal welfare considerations. Check for them when you are Buy BC.
Cage-free: Animals are not housed in cages.
Cage-free labels are usually seen on egg cartons and applies to egg-laying hens, not meat birds. This label can also apply to pork and could include labels such as ‘crate-free’ or ‘stall-free’.
Free-run: Animals are raised cage-free and indoors.
For poultry, this label only has meaning for egg-laying hens, not turkeys or chickens raised for meat. It is standard practice for all Canadian turkeys and broiler chickens to be raised free-run. You may also see this label on pork since it is standard practice in BC for young pigs to be raised in groups.
Free-range: Animals are raised cage-free with outdoor access.
The amount of time spent outside and the quality of the access can vary widely.
Pasture-raised or Pastured: Animals are raised outdoors on pasture.
This label does not necessarily mean that the animals spent their whole lives on pasture.
Grass-fed, or grass-fed and finished: Animals have access to pasture and a diet made up of forages (grass and hay).
It is important to note that the grass-fed label does not mean the animal was fed grasses for the entirety of its life.
Grass-fed can include any animal that was fed grass at some point during its life. Look for labels that are more re-assuring such as ‘100% grass-fed’, ‘grass-only’ and ‘grass-fed and finished’. None of the grass-fed labels are regulated in BC or Canada and there is no definition on how these claims can be used on meat. Get to know and understand the feeding practices of your BC producer to ensure you are getting the grass-fed meat you want.
Hormone use in Animal Production
Hormones occur naturally in all animals, people and plants so there is no such thing as hormone-free meat. However, you may see labels that say “no added growth hormones”. This means that added hormones were not used during production.
In BC, growth hormones are only approved for use in cows for beef production (beef cattle). They help to produce leaner beef at a lower cost to consumers by enabling cows to convert the food they eat into muscle more quickly and easily.
In BC growth hormones are not permitted for use in poultry, lamb and pork production or in cows that produce milk.
Health Canada sets maximum levels of hormone allowed in beef. These limits are set at levels far below the amount that could pose a health concern. Routine tests are done in BC to make sure these are followed and to ensure our meat is safe.
Raised without Antibiotics (RWA)
In order to display the label ‘raised without the use of antibiotics’ the animals used for producing this type of meat must not have received any antibiotics at any time. In addition, no antibiotics can be administered to the mother of the animal in question. In order to ensure the health and wellness of animals, any animal that requires antibiotics for health reasons must receive them, however these animals will not be eligible to be sold with the RWA claim and are removed from any RWA program.
It is important to note that all animals sold in BC for meat that have been treated with antibiotics must undergo a withdrawal period which is a specific period of time where no antibiotics can be used prior to going to market.
BC and Canada have strict regulations on how much time passes between when an animal is last treated with antibiotics and when it is sent to a processing plant.
This withdrawal period ensures that antibiotic residues aren’t present in the meat.
We are being asked if all antibiotics used on animals are bad for us, but in fact, the solution is responsible use of antibiotics. Responsible use ensures that antibiotic resistance does not become a greater threat to the human population. From an animal welfare perspective, it also means sick animals can still receive the treatment they need to get well.
Health Canada and the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) have developed a plan to counteract antibiotic resistance and created regulations and restrictions that focus on what types of antibiotics farmers can use and when.
All BC farmers wishing to buy any antibiotics must get a prescription from a licenced veterinarian. This ensures farmers find different tactics for managing animal health such as employing good biosecurity and well-managed living conditions, instead of relying on antibiotics to prevent disease.
Antibiotics should only be used on sick animals when a veterinary prescription has been given. Using antibiotics only when needed helps prevent the creation of antibiotic resistant bugs.
BC Meat Processing
Establishments in BC that process live animals are either provincially licensed or federally registered by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. The BC Government works to ensure that meat produced at provincially licensed establishments in BC is safe for consumers through the Meat Inspection Regulation. It ensures that:
– Animals are humanely handled at processing
– Meat is processed in a clean environment
– Meat is packaged and stored in ways that reduce contamination risks
Some BC provincially licensed animal processors have a government inspector on site during the animal processing day. These inspectors provide independent, third-party pre- and post- slaughter inspection of each animal to ensure only meat fit for human consumption is produced. Other provincially licensed establishments are lower volume where risk-based inspections occur periodically, but there is an audit of slaughter records.
Working in the meat industry
Direct involvement in meat processing will mean you will always find a job! Formalized training can be taken at a post secondary college; however, most businesses are willing to do on-site training for those with interest. With the many small meat processors in BC, you could be cutting meat in the morning and making specialized chorizo in the afternoon.
The industry offers seasonal, part-time, and full-time employment in stable, resilient businesses that are often multi-generational family owned and operated.
Do you want to support local, but aren’t a butcher? While there are many skilled meat cutting jobs in the meat industry, there are also other possibilities. Larger businesses need bookkeepers, accountants, schedulers, quality assurance specialists, marketing, sales and all the other positions needed to run a successful business.
What happens with animal waste products at processing?
Much of the waste from animals is processed for beneficial uses. If the meat is fit for human consumption, but not sold as such (think kidneys and tongues), then it is often made into pet food. Other by-products are composted, following the required BC regulations, to generate soil amendments or they are rendered to create tallow. All zoonotic and diseased tissue is kept separate and is disposed of in special, completely sealed bins that are then transported to sites where they undergo rendering or pyrolysis to destroy the disease. Some of these facilities generate energy that is captured and used to generate electricity.
Profile of BC Meat Processing
What does the meat processing industry look like in BC? First, to give some perspective: in all of BC, less than 30,000 beef animals are processed per year, while one large processor in Alberta can do that volume in only one week! Sadly, this means BC is far from local food security in all meats except chicken.
Most of the government inspected meat processors in BC are small, family owned and operated and processing is done in small batches with artisan detail to provide quality and taste. This leads to a variety of tasks being done each day with very little repetition and a lot of flexibility. In many places, having one more person can increase their processing capacity considerably. Maybe that person is you!
Illegal meat sales?
Illegal meat sales conjure up images of the underworld, but what is considered illegal meat sales in BC?
First, to legally sell meat in BC, the animal must be processed at a licensed and inspected establishment and the meat must be processed at a licensed and inspected cut and wrap butcher shop. Each of these establishments will have a government issued license number. These establishments are regulated to ensure the animals are humanely treated, the meat is fit for human consumption and all food safety protocols are in place.
Animal processing establishments in B.C. can be federally registered by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency or provincially licensed. Provincial licences include ‘Abattoir’, ‘Farmgate Plus’ and ‘Farmgate’. Farmgate and Farmgate Plus licences are held by farmers who process animals and can legally sell the meat with that licence. Meat processing establishments that do not process animals such as butcher shops, cut-and-wrap facilities, or commercial kitchens, are regulated by regional health authorities or the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Illegal meat sales occur when either the animal or meat is processed at an unlicensed facility. It is also illegal in BC for a farmer, without a processing licence, to sell you a live animal, process ‘your animal’ immediately for you to then take home. However, it is legal for you to process your own animal, or have your animal processed by a third party on your farm, if it is for your personal consumption only.
It then comes as no surprise that the buying or selling of hunted wildlife meat in British Columbia is illegal under BC’s Wildlife Act. Many illegal domestic and wildlife meat sellers are using the internet to make their sales, so be aware. Environmental health officers and meat inspectors are addressing illegal meat sales and the lack of compliance through warnings and ticketing.
What are they?
Mobile abattoirs are essentially processing plants on wheels that can be moved from one farm location to another to process animals. They could also be moved and set up at a various centralized locations for a group of farmers. These units generally have all the equipment necessary for processing, and some include cooling units, power generators, and even carry their own potable water.
The possibilities of a mobile slaughter unit are often brought up as a solution for farmers dealing with processing issues. Many local processing shops are working at capacity and at times, farmers need to truck animals great distances to find availability at an inspected facility in order to be able to resell their meat. However, the real processing bottleneck lies in cutting and wrapping the meat, not processing the live animal.
Advocates for mobile abattoirs state that processing the animal at the home farm reduces the amount of stress on the animal and is more humane since they do not have to go to unfamiliar surroundings, animals and people.
These units are expensive to buy, maintain and operate. Fuel is expensive, locations can be remote and the access roads may not be properly maintained. These units need to have everything a fixed facility has in order to meet regulations and at the same time travel safely down the road. They need to have full hook-ups available at the farm, or carry all of that on the trailer or truck; hot water, electricity, and a place to dump or store waste water. The meat then still needs to be transported to a shop for cutting and wrapping.
When would it work?
If there are core customers each within a short distance of each other and there is a consistent number of animals for year-round processing, the farms have good handling facilities, hot water, septic system, and everything that the truck needs to come and hook up to. Farmers may also have to be willing to pay more for this service than if they took the animals to a fixed facility.
What happens if a sick or injured animal arrives at a BC processing facility?
When a sick or injured animal arrives at a BC abattoir, there are assessment criteria that are followed to determine the course of action. This is a complex series of assessments with a number of possible outcomes based on the animal’s condition.
Basically, the assessment looks at:
– What is the overall fitness of the animal?
– Will the animal recover on its own?
– Will the animal be able to get off on its own?
– Is the animal unable to stand or walk?
Basic courses of action:
– Protect the injured animals from the other animals being unloaded
– Let the animal rest until it can get off on its own
– Separate injured and sick animals from others once off the vehicle
– If the animal cannot get off on its own, it is dispatched while still in the transport vehicle
In all cases, the welfare of the animal is of the utmost importance in BC!
Bird Flu and Avian Influenza (AI)
Avian influenza, known as “bird flu,” is a viral infection that spreads easily and quickly among birds. Parts of North America, Europe, Asia and Africa are seeing bird flu outbreaks in 2022-23 (H5N1). Small and large flocks, as well as pet birds, could be at risk of catching bird flu from wild birds since wild birds naturally carry influenza viruses.
In BC, all birds from farms affected by avian influenza outbreaks are humanely culled and disposed of and do not enter the market place. Therefore, retail poultry and poultry products (like eggs) remain safe for human consumption
The BC Centre for Disease Control says the possibility of avian influenza should be considered in people who’ve had close contact with infected animals. Symptoms are similar to other cases of flu and could include cough, sore throat, fever, runny nose, fatigue, muscle pains, joint stiffness, headache, pink eye, shortness of breath and seizures.
As of December 9, 2022, four human cases of the virus have been detected in North America and Europe, including one in the U.S., one in the U.K. and two in Spain. The risk of the general population contacting avian influenza is very low.