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Livestock may face euthanasia without Trudeau government bailout

Livestock normally sold for meat may have to be euthanized, farmers say, if they don’t see pandemic relief funds.
Libby Emmons Brooklyn, NY

Livestock normally sold for meat may have to be euthanized, farmers say, if they don’t see pandemic relief funds. Speaking to the Commons industry committee, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture has asked for $2.6 billion in aid as a result of the coronavirus closure of restaurants, which has reduced the demand for meat, according to Blacklock’s Reporter.

Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith (Beaches-East York, Ont.) was concerned about the livestock, asking “What will happen to these animals?”

Keith Currie, VP of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, replied that “that’s something that is very concerning to everyone.”

“Farmers are going to try and keep these animals as long as possible,” Currie said. “When it comes to poultry, market birds, or market hogs, that time frame is very short. So, the producers are going to have to make a business decision to depopulate.”

He went on to say that “The last thing we want to see is euthanasia, but in some cases it’s the only answer to solve this problem. Animals are, you know, they’re like family to producers, and so certainly animal welfare is a great concern.”

Erskine-Smith noted that Prince Edward Island farmers had begun euthanizing their pigs, and Currie noted that he was aware of the big problems facing pork producers.

“I know Manitoba, Québec and Prince Edward Island in particular are looking into euthanasia. Ontario is very, very close,” Currie said. “Farmers will do what they have to to keep these animals alive, but at some point in time a decision has to be made.”

The details of how these animals are euthanized was raised, with Erskine-Smith and Currie discussing the humane ways in which these animals could be destroyed.

“Farmers are going to euthanize in a humane way,” Currie said.

Erskine-Smith was not convinced. “I hope that is the case, because I read the National Farm Animal Care Council suggests that blunt trauma euthanasia is acceptable.” He described the procedure as “grasping the hind legs of a piglet and striking the top of the cranium firmly and deliberately against a flat, hard surface. I’ve seen pictures certainly of that cranium hitting a flat cement floor, and if that’s approved, that’s a challenge. It just seems to me this is what happens when we treat sentient animals as commodities.”

Farmers do not want to destroy their animals. Bob Lowe, fro, Nanton, Alta., and president of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, said that, “There is not a producer on the planet that is going to talk about euthanasia unless it is absolutely the last-ditch effort.”

He noted, “We estimate we have built up a backlog of 100,000 cattle that are ready for market but nowhere to be processed. Left unaddressed, the Canadian beef industry will lose half a billion dollars by June on market-ready cattle.”

The revelation that the meat industry is in trouble due to the economic shut downs resulting from coronavirus containment measures has been somewhat expected, as meat processors have had to shut down across North America to prevent or contain outbreaks.

“We can’t wait much longer for support from our governments,” said Rob Lipsett of Annan, Ont., president of the Beef Farmers of Ontario. Lipsett cited “staggering” losses – an average $300 per head of livestock – akin to the mad cow disaster seventeen years ago.

Lipsett here referred to the 2003 bovine spongiform encephalopathy discovery at an Alberta ranch, which resulted in international boycotts of Canadian beef exports. The losses were reported by a Statistics Canada report in 2004 at about $20,000 per farm family. The final tally of that economic cattle crisis was about $6.3 billion, once stockyards, feedlots, brokers, and trucking companies’ losses were factored in.

Farmers want government aid to help keep their industry afloat. The cabinet is “considering seriously right now” whether or not to classify this as a national disaster for farmers, according to Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau. A declaration of this kind would be under the Farm Protection Act and would open up the ability for Parliament to pay out individual producers’ claims up to 60 percent, with the remaining balance to be provided by the provinces.

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Libby Emmons
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