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New science-informed, consensus-based standards for animal welfare

Glen Jennings, an egg farmer from Masstown, Nova Scotia, says standards for animal care have changed tremendously since he first joined the family farm after completing his education in 1989.

“I’ve seen a huge transition over time,” says Jennings, who also serves as a farmer representative on the multi-stakeholder committee charged with developing a new national Code of Practice for laying hens.

He adds that many of these changes are attributable to the industry’s commitment to continuous improvements and to the standards set forth in the Code of Practice for laying hens that is led through Canada’s National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC).

The Canadian Code of Practice for laying hens serves as a national understanding of animal care requirements and recommended practices, and is a key building block for Egg Farmers of Canada’s (EFC) national Animal Care Program.

“Farmer representatives like myself worked with veterinarians, animal welfare experts, retail and government representatives, and others, to arrive at these new enhanced standards that make up the draft Code,” explains Jennings. The process is consensus-based, so that all stakeholders’ views are taken in to account, and the results reflect both society’s expectations and the latest advances in scientific research.

There are codes of practice for the different animals raised on farms. Codes are educational tools, reference materials for regulations and the foundation for animal care assessment programs.

The previous Code of Practice for laying hens dates from 2003. Getting a new Code in place involves a rigorous process.

EFC initiated the review process in 2012 with the support of the Canadian Poultry and Egg Processors Council and Pullet Growers of Canada.

A draft Code was released on June 30 for public comment. The public comment period allows stakeholders to view the draft Code and provide input that can be incorporated into the final version. Canadians have until August 29, 2016, to offer their comments, and a final, revised version is expected to be in place by the end of the year.

Once it’s in effect, EFC will use the Code’s standards to enhance its own Animal Care Program.

EFC’s Animal Care Program includes inspections and third-party auditing. In addition to random checks by independent auditors, Jennings says inspectors visit the farm and look over all the records the farmers keep to make sure the animals are well treated.

Jennings says that it’s important for egg farmers to keep up with evolving animal welfare practices.

“It all comes down to the welfare of the birds,” he says.