What does animal agriculture look like in Canada? For some people, the answer to this is found through their own individual journeys learning about farming practices in Canada. However, for Canadians that are not routinely exposed to animal agriculture, there are typically two ways that they will learn about how meat, egg, and dairy products are produced on a mass scale in Canada. The first is through a news story that is reported on by all major media organizations. It features undercover footage from a farm or slaughterhouse in Province X, with the news anchor providing the disclaimer, “viewers be warned, the images you are about to see are disturbing.” The other way that people learn about animal agriculture is from the livestock sector itself. This could be from industry groups, marketing boards, producer’s associations, lobby groups, agribusinesses, industry-friendly politicians taking photo-ops on farms, etc. These billion dollar industries take great care to ensure that Canadians always see healthy animals, green grass, blue sky, clean farms, and smiling farmers with their families, accompanied by messages of hard work, Canadian patriotism, and “putting food on your table”.
In the public sphere then, there are two distinct portrayals of what animal agriculture looks like in Canada: 1) direct footage taken of the actual conditions of farm animals, whether they be on farms, transport trucks, or slaughterhouses, and 2) industry curated imagery featured in advertisements, social media, marketing materials, and on the packaging and logos of the products themselves. It’s only when people begin to inquire further that they can start piecing together the realities of animal agriculture and are able to sift fact from fiction.
What Canadians aren’t shown about animal agriculture
In 2019 alone, Canada slaughtered 834 million land animals. That’s an average of over 2.2 million animals that are killed every day in Canada. When we see a healthy cow in a green pasture in an ad, is it really representative of the millions of animals that are being transported or killed that day, or the hundreds of millions of animals living on factory farms at any given moment in Canada?
Canadians are never shown what farm animals look like after they’ve spent up to 36 hours on open-sided transport trucks in -20° or +40° weather without food, rest, or water – which is standard practice. They don’t see the lifeless frozen bodies that didn’t survive the journeys, or the ones that died of heat stroke that are thrown off the truck into a dumpster at the slaughterhouse. (Our research revealed that over 1.2 million animals died on transport trucks in 2019). People also aren’t shown how farm animals experience the final moments of their lives, screaming and struggling to escape before their violent slaughter. They aren’t shown how pigs experience being killed in gas chambers in Canada. They aren’t shown how piglets are legally “euthanized” by grabbing their hind legs and slamming their heads on concrete floors, an acceptable method of euthanasia approved by the National Farm Animal Care Council called “blunt trauma euthanasia”. Canadians don’t see the instruments of extreme confinement that animals literally go insane in: gestation crates and battery cages.
But they can. The footage is out there. The photos have been taken. When people see the conditions of farm animals and the industry-approved practices that they endure, they realize that people don’t have to be abusing animals for animal cruelty to occur: the very system itself is animal cruelty.
Isolated vs. systemic animal cruelty
When the media presents us with 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. 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. This category 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.
When people view undercover footage of factory farms they understand 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 products. 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 intentionally keeps 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 at the bottom of this page took place, it would be the whistleblower, not the abuser, who would be facing criminal charges and jail time. Unfortunately, this has now become the reality in Canada.
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.
These industries have 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 Tobacco and Big Pharma: create powerful lobbies, fund studies, distort realities, fuel anti-activist discourse, discredit and intimidate critics, and market aggressively and unscrupulously to citizens.
But these industries also 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.
What is animal agriculture in Canada?
With all of this in mind, Canadians need to critically evaluate the messages that they receive from all parties about animal agriculture (including the work we present on our website) and ask themselves: is this representative of the reality of animal agriculture or am I being sold a distorted and obscured version of the truth?
The information about animal agriculture in Canada is in the public domain. The pictures featured on this page were captured by We Animals, who document the conditions of animals in Canada and worldwide through their photojournalism. We have compiled news reports and videos below that have examined farming practices in Canada over the years. A question to be asked while watching these videos is: Is this an isolated case, or is animal cruelty systemic throughout the entire animal agricultural system?
According to the 2016 census, there were nearly 120,000 animal farms in Canada. Below are 16 instances where this dark sector became illuminated.