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Mercy for Animals Canada: Food Companies and Animal Welfare

Logo for Mercy for AnimalsWe’re starting off the new year by taking a closer look at the meat and egg products we buy, thanks to the Canada Animal Welfare Scorecard released last fall by CSI Annex member, Mercy For Animals Canada. Part of the international organization Mercy For Animals, which operates in several different countries, they are one of the world’s largest international farmed animal protection organizations, best known for their undercover investigations into industries that raise and slaughter animals, like egg, dairy, and veal farms. The Canada Animal Welfare Scorecard, the second annual report and the only one of its kind in the country, ranks more than 50 food companies. We spoke to PJ Nyman, Corporate Engagement Manager, about the report, its implications for the Canadian agriculture sector and for consumers nationwide, and how being a CSI member has benefited their work.

The cover of the 2022 Canada Animal Welfare Scorecard. Image depicts pigs running towards the camera lens in dirt.The Canada Animal Welfare Scorecard ranks food companies operating in Canada on where they stand on key animal welfare issues, in relation to their own self reported policies to ban cruel practices from their supply chains. Food companies such as grocery stores, restaurants, and other foodservice providers purchase animal-based products to sell to Canadian customers, which means that they are accountable to the public. That’s why this report is so important, as it helps to elevate animal welfare as a matter of corporate responsibility and increase public pressure on Canadian food companies and their supply chains to meet progressive global animal welfare standards. This year, Mercy For Animals increased the number of companies investigated to 55 and looked at three critical issues: laying hens confined in cages, mother pigs confined in crates, and the housing and slaughter of chickens used in meat production. 

The general findings of the report reveal that “we need to see a lot more transparency from public-facing food companies, and from industries that they’re sourcing from,” said Nyman. Mercy For Animals found that while most of the companies featured in the report have public cage-free egg commitments, only half of them were transparent about the fulfillment status of their policies while about 20% have reported that they’ve successfully transitioned to sourcing exclusively cage-free eggs. “There’s lots of room for improvement,” Nyman reports. “These are public commitments, so we should be holding them to account for them – their brands profit off these commitments so they need to follow through.”

This chart, from the 2022 Canada Animal Welfare Scorecard, depicts the percentage of laying hens confined to cages in different countries.

When asked if they thought the public would find the report findings surprising, Nyman pointed out a misleading notion. “We tend to think we do a lot of things better than the US,” Nyman says, “but there are definitely issues in which Canada is falling behind others, including the US and the EU.” Although Canada has an industry code that bans conventional battery cages for hens by 2036, there is still a higher percentage of confined hens per year here than in the US or the UK. Another myth is that Canada does not operate factory farms; in fact, the majority of farms in Canada are factory farms, defined in the report as “large industrial farms that raise large numbers of animals using intensive methods and controlled conditions intended to maximize production and lower costs.” 

So, what can you look for when shopping or dining? Nyman suggests carefully reading labels. For eggs and pork, extreme confinement is a pervasive practice. “Is there a clear statement of no confinement? ‘Farm fresh’ and ‘Grade A’ are not connected to welfare.” A certified humane statement with a trademark is also good to look for. “Be aware that there may be misleading marketing,” warns Nyman. “Because of so much public awareness on these campaigns, we often assume that the industry has shifted and don’t check labels the way that we used to. Today, choosing plant-based options is also an important way to signal a move away from industrial animal farming and the cruelty that comes with it.”

If you’re interested in chatting more about animal welfare or the Canada Animal Welfare Scorecard, find Mercy For Animals team at CSI Annex! “It’s exciting to be able to connect and collaborate with other animal advocacy organizations in the same space,” says Nyman. “It’s inspiring to be in the space of social change and see what others are doing.” 

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