Meristem Land and Science: Driving Progress in Sustainability

NewStream Farm Animal Care, Volume 1, Edition 20

Alberta leads new 'Vet Team' outreach approach

October 31, 2013

Dr. Darrell Dalton, Registrar of ABVMA

Innovative model gains traction and holds potential for other provinces

Alberta is leading the development of a new approach to provide emergency veterinary response related to animal welfare issues.

The Animal Welfare Veterinary Emergency Response Team (AWVERT) is based on the concept of having a network of veterinarians, spanning the province, who can respond to a range of animal welfare situations and deliver services of value to several different agencies in a coordinated fashion. Development of the initiative is led by the Alberta Veterinary Medical Association (ABVMA) along with Alberta Farm Animal Care (AFAC).

"We believe the timing is right for AWVERT and we're currently in the transition phase to making this happen," says Dr. Darrell Dalton, Registrar of ABVMA. "It will improve our emergency response related to animal welfare in Alberta and it has the potential to serve as a model for other jurisdictions."

A key part of the approach is to further mobilize and build on the progress of several existing resources, including the ALERT Line, the ABVMA Euthanasia Project and the AFAC Emergency Trailer Project, says Dalton. AWVERT also has potential to dovetail with the resources and roles of the Canadian Veterinary Reserve and the Alberta Emergency Management Agency.

Click here to read the complete feature article.

PR battle heats up for U.S poultry and livestock groups

October 31, 2013

Animal Agriculture Alliance and partners continue down different path than Canada with combative approach

Call it a case study in pre-emptive striking. Poultry and livestock groups in the U.S. recently issued a joint report highlighting sustainability advances in animal agriculture that includes highlights of achievements in farm animal welfare. The timing was no accident, coming Oct. 21, 2013, the day before an anticipated five-year update by the anti-industry Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Production issued by the Center for a Livable Future.

All of the poultry and livestock groups participating in the report provided information on successes in five areas including animal care, responsible antibiotics use, food safety, environmental sustainability and industry research initiatives. This effort was led by the Animal Agriculture Alliance, in collaboration with the National Chicken Council, U.S. Poultry & Egg Association, National Turkey Federation, United Egg Producers, National Cattleman's Beef Association, National Pork Board, National Pork Producers Council, and National Milk Producers Federation.

Reports go head to head

According to the Animal Agriculture Alliance, "The report highlights the many, continuous improvements made by the poultry and livestock industry, explains how agriculture has adapted to the changing landscape, including embracing technology to improve animal well-being and food safety, and discusses modern agriculture and the need to feed 9.1 billion people by 2050."

Was this approach effective? No doubt many in Canada will follow the reaction closely as U.S. organizations continue down a much more aggressive and combative path than livestock industries here have chosen. View the complete report here.

Canada 'mooving' forward with assessment framework

October 31, 2013

Ron Maynard, dairy producer

Dairy industry completes test pilot to 'better manage what we can measure'

Livestock organizations across Canada have made major strides in delivering transparency on animal care practices through everything from regional programs to the updated Codes of Practice. Now, in an era where "Trust me doesn't cut it anymore," the next challenge is to demonstrate compliance to support public buy-in.

This has been the driving need behind Canada's new Animal Care Assessment Framework (ACAF) – a tool that provides a basis for industry groups to develop species-specific assessment programs to demonstrate that the Codes are being followed.

Basis for credibility, benchmarking

According to Caroline Ramsay, Coordinator for the ACAF with the National Farm Animal Care Council, the ACAF provides a common approach to program development that facilitates consistent communications along the value chain and between commodity groups. This also enhances the credibility of assessment programs developed according to the framework.

"It's important to have a credible way to not only say what we're doing but prove it," says Ramsay. "The ACAF is designed to provide that assurance through a nationally-coordinated common approach."

The dairy industry recently completed its test pilot of the ACAF, utilizing the framework in developing a Canadian dairy animal care assessment program. "Our producers have been very supportive," says Ron Maynard, dairy producer and Vice President, Dairy Farmers of Canada. "We can better manage what we can measure and this program will be a tool to do that. It provides a basis for benchmarking to support management decisions both at an industry level and an individual producer level. This promotes continual improvement."

Stay tuned for more developments around ACAF in the months ahead.

Two solitudes: From Pig to Sheep

October 31, 2013

Photo credit: Alberta Pork

Responses to the two most recent draft Codes illustrate opposite ends of the spectrum and the challenge of higher engagement often being tied to higher controversy

Eight Codes of Practice for the care and handling of farm animals have been in various stages of development over the past several years, including beef cattle, pigs, mink, fox, equine, sheep, chickens-turkeys-breeders and poultry-layers.

Clearly, some are more a focal point for debate than others. Two on opposite ends of the spectrum are the draft Codes for Pigs and for Sheep, both of which completed public comment periods over the past several months.

Record response to nary a ripple

The Pig Code drew a record of over 4,700 submissions representing over 32,000 individual comments – more received than the sum of submissions of all the other Codes combined. Safe to say the vast majority of those were on the contentious issue of sow housing.

By stark contrast, the Sheep Code discussion has been as mild as the livestock species it focuses on - virtually sailing quietly through the public comment period that concluded in early September.

Catherine Scovil, Canadian Pork Council

While the relatively high level of engagement for the Pig Code can be seen as a positive, the strong focus on one issue carries the risk of overshadowing the fundamental role of the Code and other important elements of its contents.

"The top challenge we have faced in this process is the danger of this becoming a one-issue Code," says Catherine Scovil, Associate Executive Director of the Canadian Pork Council.

Risk of one issue hijacking the process

That was not the case in the draft Code development process but it has been the case during the public comment period, she says.

"Sow housing became the critical issue and it has been a lightning rod issue. The risk is that this minimizes the rest of the Code. It's a very holistic Code but we have come down to defining its success on one aspect. I do worry that we're going to lose sight of everything else that's in the Code that really there is not a lot of controversy about."


October 31, 2013

Quick takes on key activity and what's coming, from NewStream editors

Lessons from the W5 feature on Alberta eggs

When the CTV investigative journalism show W5 showcased undercover video of alleged animal cruelty issues on an Alberta egg producer farm recently, the story attracted strong reaction across the livestock industry. In journalism terms the story quickly showed it "had legs", meaning it continued in other media for some time.

As journalists, NewStream editors listened in as the industry, communicators and others weighed in across the web and email on how things were being handled. Here are a few gut reaction observations from that industry.

  1. It's tough. Watching Egg Farmers of Alberta staff deal with cameras being forced on them was uncomfortable. No amount of preparation makes answering under that kind of pressure easy. Regardless of whether this was handled as well as it could have been (and there was varying opinion on that), people in farm organizations on the frontlines of dealing with media when this type of communications occur need ongoing training and strong support.
  2. Some media stories were more balanced than others. Clearly it helps to have an information base available to calmly and effectively get core messages across and withstand pressure situations.
  3. New media are popping up. There are some excellent blogs emerging in agriculture and food that are drawing attention. One good example is the "Mike the Chicken Vet" blog located at http://mikethechickenvet.wordpress.com/. It was showcased by the Real Agriculture news service www.RealAgriculture.com. Well written and current, Mike's blog is an example of why farmers need many people telling the story of agriculture.
  4. There's more coming. This kind of animal activist pressure is not going away and industry needs to continually invest in preparedness.

Window on shifting times: Livestock Care Conference

A quick scan of the NewStream Farm Aninmal Care editions over the past year (See archive list) shows it has been a landmark time for developments in farm animal care.

One of the best places to get a window on where things are headed next is the upcoming Livestock Care Conference, hosted by Alberta Farm Animal Care. The event is slated for March 2014 and the agenda is already taking shape.

A few examples of the topics planned include:

  • Cultivating connections – Social media and agriculture
  • Animal health & welfare – The next evolution
  • Activists are taking a multi-faceted approach – You should too
  • A new way of learning for a new generation of farmers
  • Industry innovation showcase – Leading examples of progress

Circle your calendar now and check out information on the LCC website.




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