Meristem Land and Science: Driving Progress in Sustainability


Drivers of Care: Geoff Urton

Manager of Stakeholder Relations with BC SPCA talks challenges, progress and keys to Canada's success

Posted: November 28, 2013

Geoff Urton

Q: What is the focus of BSPCA as it relates to Farm Animal Care?

Geoff Urton: The BC SPCA's approach to improving the welfare of animals is focused on direct dialogue with industry and other stakeholders to advance standards of care based on scientific evidence and other professional opinion.

The National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC) has provided an incredible venue for this conversation to happen through its new Code of Practice Development Process, and I've had a great opportunity to be involved as the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies (CFHS) representative for the past few years.

The old Recommended Codes really had no credibility with animal welfare organizations, academics or consumers with an interest in animal welfare, so it's been encouraging to be part of this process that allows the issues to be more legitimately addressed.

Seeing the publication of the new Codes for dairy cattle, beef cattle and horses in particular has been very rewarding. Seeing some demonstration that they are being adhered to on farms will be even better. This may happen through industry association assessment programs developed with NFACC's Animal Care Assessment Framework, or through third-party assurance programs put in place by the retail and foodservice sectors or NGOs, like our SPCA Certified program.

What are a few key lessons that stand out?

Geoff Urton: The direct dialogue between stakeholders in NFACC processes allows for a constructive approach that is long overdue. This is illustrated by the gap that has grown between public expectations and industry practices over the last decades. In some cases, this has made it difficult to come to consensus among all of the stakeholders on the details around certain issues, like phase out of gestation stalls, for instance. But at least we're all talking now, which will lead to more sustainable solutions in the long run, even if we collectively don't know how to solve every problem right now.

There has also been an acclimation occurring with industry members as they become more comfortable with letting animal welfare stakeholders into these processes as partners in developing industry policy, and considering public comments on the Codes. They certainly deserve credit for inviting us in to participate and the Codes and assurance programs that result will be more credible because of our involvement.

What is important to shared progress as a farm animal care community?

Geoff Urton: When there are conflicts in views between farmers and animal welfarists, it's tempting for each side to want to "educate" the other. But I think there is a real opportunity to bring individual producers and citizens together to discuss these issues below the national "Board Room" level. We all have a lot to learn. I hear some researchers have started bringing together focus groups like this but it would be fascinating to see it conducted more broadly.

Editor's note. Learn more about the BC SPCA and its activities. The BC SPCA's FarmSense email newsletter provides regular updates and news on farm animal welfare initiatives, including the Canadian Codes of Practice.

Reprintable with credit. This article is available for reprint, with acknowledgement of the source as Meristem Land and Science, www.meristem.com.

Meristem is a Calgary-based communications firm that specializes in writing about western agriculture, food and land use. More articles at www.meristem.com.




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