The animal agriculture industry is one of the most secretive sectors in Canada. Although the majority of Canadians support this industry by buying its products, virtually no one has seen how their food is actually produced. Most people don’t know the extent of animal suffering in Canada’s agricultural system. They don’t know that animals spend their entire lives in extreme confinement on factory farms. They are unaware of the cruel nature of live animal transport. And they have never seen the insides of industrial slaughterhouses where millions of terrified animals are violently killed every single day in Canada. If they did, our agricultural system would look a lot different. People wouldn’t stand for this widespread animal cruelty. But the industry has been effective in their marketing to consumers to separate the piece of store-bought meat from the individual it came from, or the jug of milk from the mother that suffered for it. That needs to change. People deserve to know how their food is produced.
Over 834 million land animals were bred and killed last year in Canada, yet their existence and suffering is shrouded in secrecy. We have compiled news reports and videos below that have examined farming practices in Canada over the years. According to the 2016 census, there were nearly 120,000 animal farms in Canada. Below are 16 instances where this dark sector became illuminated. Rather than detail the numerous inhumane (and legal) practices that are standard procedure in the meat, dairy, and egg industries, people need to witness the truth for themselves and get a sense of what happens in our agricultural system. View the videos in the right-hand column for a rare glimpse into the reality of animal agriculture in Canada.
Isolated vs. systemic animal cruelty
When we view undercover videos that expose the conditions of farm animals, we usually see two kinds of animal cruelty: 1) isolated cases of animal abuse committed by humans towards animals, and 2) systemic animal cruelty that exists as a necessary and fundamental feature of industrial animal agriculture. (E.g. the farmer callously kicking a piglet’s head is a case of isolated cruelty. The farmer “euthanizing” a piglet by slamming her head multiple times against concrete is a case of systemic cruelty.) The former category may result in animal cruelty charges if someone is caught and is typically explained by the industry as “just a bad apple”. The latter category is far more disturbing, as our laws, regulations, industry standards, agricultural practices, and political economy all conform to and enable this systemic form of cruelty. There are no federal laws in Canada that govern animal welfare on farms, and the standards for animal care outlined by the National Farm Animal Care Council are developed by and for the industry. There are no government inspections, no public audits, no transparency. Systemic animal cruelty leaves no one accountable or responsible for the widespread suffering of Canada’s farm animals, as this innate violence is embedded in the very nature of our institutions.
Direct footage taken on farms highlights that the efficiency and scope of the animal agriculture system fundamentally depends on a massive infrastructure of systematized exploitation and suffering. Killing an average of 2.2 million animals per day leaves no room for treating farm animals with dignity and care that they deserve. They are treated as mere commodities. And they suffer as a result. They suffer immensely.
Our society has constructed an incredible architecture of animal cruelty, the likes of which most of the public will never witness or come to appreciate, yet exists solely due to the demand for animal-derived foods. This cruel system has been made possible by a deep and disturbing relationship between agribusiness and politicians that work to keep the food system opaque and normalizes the routine violence towards farm animals. With the recent emergence of Ag-Gag laws in Canada, the concealment of industry practices is further entrenched as these laws criminalize whistleblowers that attempt to uncover animal cruelty on farms. Had Ag-Gag laws been in place during the time that the investigations featured on this page took place, it would be the whistleblower, not the abuser, who would be facing criminal charges and jail time. Unfortunately, ag-gag laws have now become reality in Canada. As a result, the systemic abuse of animals on farms has been further cloaked in secrecy.
The meat and dairy industries spend hundreds of millions of dollars to convince Canadians that animal cruelty and animal agriculture are mutually exclusive. Governments also include provisions in their animal cruelty laws that exempt the inhumane treatment of farm animals, which we call the state-sanctioned animal cruelty provision. These industries wield incredible power and influence in our political and justice systems. They make these systems work for them by steering agricultural policy, ensuring billions of dollars of public funds are used to prop up the meat and dairy sectors, and by compelling politicians to introduce draconian Ag-Gag laws. They ensure their teams of lawyers convince the courts to criminalize the photographers, not the abusers.
This sector has a lot to gain from keeping the truth hidden: billions of dollars in profits and total control over the agricultural economy. To maintain their economic and political dominance, opaqueness is fundamental to their business model – transparency means ruin. They operate in the same way as Big Oil and Big Pharma: create powerful lobbies, fund studies, distort realities, fuel anti-activist discourse, discredit and intimidate critics, and market aggressively to citizens with deceptive propaganda. Big Meat and Dairy operate on a mountain of lies and unsurprisingly, they are experiencing a significant loss of public trust.
These industries have a lot to lose in their attempts to keep the public in the dark. Animal agriculture is currently at a turning point. People are coming to terms with the realities of this industry and are saying no to meat and dairy in mass numbers. The growth of plant-based alternatives and the promise of clean meat is the industry’s nightmare, and they will fight tooth and nail to retain their customers. Their propaganda is woven throughout the fabric of our society and it is only increasing as more and more people reject animal products. We’ve already examined how pervasive and unethical their marketing is in the targeting of schoolchildren, as seen in our work about Dairy Educators and Agriculture in the Classroom. But these examples only scratch the surface of the industry’s reach into all of our societal institutions.
Major consumer shifts are occurring and the cracks in the industry’s façade are widening. For people that cannot in good conscience support animal cruelty, a transition to a compassionate plate is necessary – one that is free of all animal products. For those who want to take a step further and take a stand against animal cruelty, the animals trapped in these agricultural hells need your help. No animal deserves this. Become informed, become engaged, and help dismantle this incredibly cruel system. We need a complete transition to a plant-based agricultural system.
A humane food system is not only possible, it’s necessary.