Mr. Chairman and committee members, thank you for the opportunity to appear before your committee as a representative of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association.
I'm a veterinarian licensed to practice in the province of Ontario. I am the current chair of the national issues committee of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, CVMA.
I have been in private veterinary practice for 38 years, primarily engaged in large animals, mostly dairy cattle, in clinical medicine and surgery. I currently sit on the executive of the Ontario Association of Bovine Practitioners and was their president in 2010. At present, I am secretary-treasurer of the Canadian Association of Bovine Veterinarians and was their president in 2015.
In my current capacity as a practitioner and CVMA member, I work in close association with livestock producers, especially dairy farmers. I have in my professional network colleagues who work as specialists or generalists on a wide range of farmed animals in the agrifood sector in Canada.
The CVMA provides a national and international forum for over 7,200 veterinarians working in all of Canada's provinces and territories as private practitioners, researchers, educators and public servants. In addition, the CVMA counts 7,300 veterinary technicians and technologists as affiliate members.
Veterinary practitioners provide services to owners of pets, livestock and other animals. In addition to their contributions to public health and food safety, veterinarians help farmers market healthy and humanely raised animals, which are vital to Canada's reputation as a producer and exporter of billions of dollars of high-quality animals and animal products.
Veterinarians provide unique expertise on the health and welfare of all types of animals and have a professional obligation through the veterinarian's oath to ensure the welfare of animals under their care. Specifically, veterinarians have specific expertise in animal health and disease. They possess the knowledge and understanding of the biology of domesticated animals. They have practical experience and understanding of the care and management of animals as well as practical experience in the recognition of the signs of suffering in animals, and an understanding of the interdependencies that exist between animal health, human health and the environment.
As members of a self-regulated profession, who serve the public and society, veterinarians earn and maintain the public trust through engagement in principle-guided ethical practice. Veterinarians hold themselves, their colleagues and their profession to a high standard of ethical conduct, reflecting the core values and principles of the profession. The public has the reasonable expectation that the care and service provided by veterinarians reflects these core values. As a veterinarian licensed in the province of Ontario, I follow a code of ethics that is comprised of the core values of compassion, trustworthiness, transparency, competence, professionalism and respect.
I believe that the commitment our profession has to its core values is reflected in a positive perception of veterinarians by the public. Studies have shown that the public trusts its veterinarians. A 2015 study in the U.K., for example, demonstrated that 94% of respondents had a high level of trust in their veterinarians and close to 80% were satisfied with the services provided. There is no reason to think that veterinarians are not perceived in a similar way in Canada.
Public trust research by the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity over the past several years has clearly shown that Canadians care deeply about the availability of healthy, affordable food. They insist on the humane treatment of farm animals and they expect food safety with respect to food-borne illnesses, disease and drug residues. The high level of trust in veterinarians and the key role we play in supporting producers in sustainable animal agriculture means that veterinarians have an important responsibility to ensure that the public perception of the agrifood system remains high. As veterinarians, we take this responsibility very seriously.
On delivering on its responsibilities, the veterinary profession strives to use its scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of animals and for society in general. This is what is called the One Health approach: that is, an approach to medicine that recognizes that the health of humans, animals and the environment are inextricably linked. Veterinarians or registered veterinary technologists and technicians play a key role in improving the health and welfare of animals they treat in a manner that supports One Health.
As one example, the One Health approach is particularly relevant to the development of collaborative strategies for responsible antimicrobial use in animal and human populations, and through those efforts to significantly reduce the level of drug resistance in antimicrobial populations.
The CVMA recognizes antimicrobial resistance as a growing threat in Canada and around the world. It is crucial that the public health, the veterinary and regulatory communities work together with food animal agriculture to minimize the emergent and continued spread of antimicrobial resistance for the benefit of all. Through a One Health approach, the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association has helped Canada's commitment to responding to the threat of antimicrobial resistance as described in Health Canada's document, “Tackling Antimicrobial Resistance and Antimicrobial Use: A Pan-Canadian Framework for Action”.
Held up as an example of leading guidance on antimicrobial stewardship was a document, “Veterinary Oversight of Antimicrobial Use — A Pan-Canadian Framework for Professional Standards for Veterinarians” developed in 2016 as a collaboration between CVMA and the Canadian Council of Veterinary Registrars. The veterinary oversight framework represents a significant step by the veterinary profession in Canada towards addressing the enhanced veterinary responsibilities for oversight of antimicrobials as a result of changes in federal policies and regulations regarding antimicrobials.
Thanks to funding from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, as well as the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the CVMA reviewed and renewed its guidelines for the prudent use of veterinary antimicrobial medications from 2008. In December 2018, CVMA launched an online platform of guidelines to support Canadian veterinarians in making prudent decisions on the appropriate and responsible use of antimicrobials they prescribe in animals. These new guidelines currently address six species groups: swine, poultry, beef, dairy, small ruminants and companion animals. With continued funding, we hope to expand the guidelines to equine and aquaculture, and to also provide resources on the use of alternatives to antimicrobials.
The CVMA has also developed a concept and design for a pilot veterinary antimicrobial use surveillance system that will focus initially on animal feed. At present, a significant majority of antimicrobials by weight used in food animal agriculture are administered via the feed or water fed to them. Participants in workshops who collaborated in this design included veterinary practitioners, veterinary regulatory bodies, federal and provincial government representatives, industry officials representing producers and feed and animal health industries, and academics. We anticipate a decision from AAFC on project funding in the very near future.
Good morning. My name is Ryder Lee and I am the chair of the National Farm Animal Care Council. Thank you to the chair and all the members for the opportunity to speak on the role of the National Farm Animal Care Council, NFACC, in supporting public trust in agriculture.
I live here in Regina where I work as the CEO of the Saskatchewan Cattlemen's Association . Before that I lived in Ottawa and worked at the Canadian Cattlemen's Association.
Way back, I spent my young years on a cow-calf ranch a few hours southwest of Regina. My brother runs that ranch now and I am the typical second son out making my way.
I still have some land and cattle there but I try to keep my nose out of the day-to-day and contribute by working on the diverse files of the association. Perhaps it's this background that was part of becoming the chair of the council.
In the invitation we received to attend this session, it was said that the members would like to understand the challenges and opportunities for the sector, measures taken by industry and government to improve public trust, and what other measures should be taken.
I'd like to start by telling you a good story about a really important measure on farm animal welfare that has been taken by all interested stakeholders including industry and government. It's the story of the National Farm Animal Care Council, and it's a critical piece in the public trust puzzle around farm animal welfare.
The National Farm Animal Care Council is a collaborative partnership of diverse stakeholders created to share information and work together on farm animal care and welfare. NFACC is an essential organization within Canada's animal welfare system with a uniquely Canadian approach.
We address national animal care issues related to farmed animals with a primary focus on animals raised for the production of food for people. We're an organization of process, building credible processes that support diverse stakeholders in developing solutions to animal welfare challenges.
Our ultimate goal is real progress on farm animal welfare while maintaining the viability of Canadian animal agriculture.
NFACC does three things. First, we uphold a credible, science-informed approach for the development, update and maintenance of codes of practice for the care and handling of farm animals. Second, we uphold a standard, credible approach for the development of animal care assessment programs. Third, we facilitate information sharing and communication on farm animal care and welfare amongst diverse stakeholders, a round table, if you will.
What makes NFACC unique is the partnership between animal agriculture industry groups, animal welfare advocates, governments, scientists, veterinarians and the food industry. The relationships cultivated amongst stakeholders that do not normally interact is one of NFACC's key strengths.
All NFACC members support the following core values: we accept the use of farmed animals in agriculture, we believe that animals should be treated humanely and we support approaches that are scientifically informed.
Before 2005, there was no National Farm Animal Care Council. Thirteen and a bit years later, it's hard to imagine managing farm animal welfare without NFACC. The processes and approaches that NFACC has developed to address farm animal welfare are now cornerstones of Canada's animal welfare system and critical for maintaining public trust in how farmers and ranchers care for their animals. The growing buy-in for NFACC's collaborative processes is a testament to the value of working together to make the right decisions on animal welfare.
NFACC is probably best known for supporting the development of codes of practice for the care and handling of farm animals. Canada currently has 15 codes of practice in place, 12 of which have been developed or updated using NFACC's code of practice development process. We have just received funding through the AgriAssurance program of the Canadian agricultural partnership from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada to update and develop more codes. The transportation, dairy cattle and goat codes are in the process of being updated and a new-to-Canada farmed finfish code is being developed. We are grateful to the federal government for its continued support through project funding of these important public trust-building initiatives.
Public trust is a pretty new buzzword and maintaining public trust is an imperative for many sectors, including agriculture. Achieving public trust requires transparency, accountability and integrity, three attributes that NFACC and its processes embody and continually aim to strengthen. These are the measures that we need to continue to take going forward. Federal project funding, such as I mentioned, supporting NFACC projects and research will continue to be important to keep all stakeholders able to contribute.
Challenges and opportunities around public trust abound, particularly as it relates to animal welfare. Animal welfare is a multi-dimensional topic; not an easily articulated sound bite or single issue. It’s also a topic that generates strong emotions.
The challenge is often in getting past the rhetoric. NFACC has a remarkable track record that demonstrates what can be accomplished when people with different views on animal welfare focus on what they have in common versus what divides them. It’s also important to keep in mind that the welfare of animals is largely dependent upon the care provided by people, so it’s integral that those providing that care are involved in any change that’s being proposed or managed.
NFACC aims to harness the strengths of diversity and consensus-based collaboration. This in turn maximizes the opportunity for making better and more sustainable decisions on animal welfare and maintaining public trust.
We'll start our questioning round.
Before we do I'd like to welcome my colleague from the committee on fisheries and oceans, Mr. Todd Doherty.
I am on the fisheries committee and the agriculture committee. Now you know what I mean when I say I'm on the fish-and-chip committee.
Mr. Adam Vaughan is also here in replacement. Thanks for being here.
Now we'll start the question round.
Mr. Berthold, you have the floor for six minutes.
While I have the floor, I'd like to say that I somewhat regret the fact that there wasn't really any discussion. I proposed an amendment to the motion, but unfortunately, it didn't work. I regret that we waited until today, Thursday, and that we gave a little hope to the producers. They hoped that we would reach a non-partisan agreement to resolve this issue as quickly as possible.
We'll continue to pressure the government to find a solution. It's unacceptable that people pay insurance premiums, but can't obtain compensation for damage. I'll stop here, Mr. Chair, because I want to share my speaking time with my colleague. I just wanted to make a few comments. I believed, in good faith, that the committee could reach a non-partisan agreement to resolve this situation.
I'll give the floor to Mr. Dreeshen.
Thank you to our guests, Ryder in Regina and Mr. Ceelen here.
I think one of the reasons we are studying this is the issue of public trust. It's interesting. Every group and every organization is going to say what it is they do, so that we understand the significance of their engagement.
One of the things that we had heard from the study we had done previously on mental health, as far as farmers and producers are concerned, was about attacks on farmers, social media attacks by animal welfare advocates that are outside of what one would consider is normal.
How are you managing that? Is there is a recognition within the organizations that these attacks are out there? If they don't believe these are attacks, is there at least a recognition that farmers are feeling as though they are being attacked? That was one of the very critical things....
We look at marketing schemes. We have to make sure that the public feels this is right. If the public is not being given proper information, if there is marketing that says there are no antibiotics, and no added hormones and that sort of thing to meat, and then they move from there into “let's have a veggie burger”.... If you want to look at the estrogen that is associated with it you go from 5 nanograms to 7 nanograms, when you have thousands in the bun. Yet we're still supposed to believe that here's some organization or business standing up for the health of Canadians.
Then in the labelling aspect of that you might as well have boneless watermelon. That's about how all of this relates in some of the commentary.
Because we have representatives who are dealing with large animals, bovines and so on, I think it's important we talk about some of the other aspects of it. Of course, the CFIA has put together new regulations on transport of animals. That's a critical part. These rules will be taking place in February 2020. Of course, it's dealing with all types of movement of animals, which is important, but it's also a case that it is being done well now.
Yes, any time you want to take another look at things, we can consider that as being improvements, but we see the new trucks that are there, and the way in which they are being loaded, and the care that's associated with it. All of those things are already being done in industry, but when we focus on it, it is as though...“look at the terrible things that are happening here”.
The concept of taking it from 48 hours on a truck to 48 sounds good. Everyone is saying, “if I were in vehicle for 36 hours, I would want to stretch”, but every time you take an animal off, injuries take place.
It's these kinds of things. Farmers are looking at this, and they are saying once again we're putting out these flags and giving another chance for these people who do not understand the industry, and only have vested interest in it, to make added points.
I know I don't have much time left. I've talked for most of it, but perhaps, Ryder, you could talk a little bit about that and then Mr. Ceelen could speak on some of the other issues.
Hello. It's good to see you. You raise a lot of good points there.
We must be careful of what we grab onto or commit to in the name of public trust. I think you have talked a lot about how a lot of things are driven by the opinions of a vocal few and not by the actions or desires of the public at large.
One of the measuring sticks I look at for public trust is the marketplace, and how people are behaving. The noise out there—whether it's the threats or the commitments people are calling for—is not the same as what...people are moving around and doing in the marketplace. That might not be a leading indicator, but it's more reliable than any I can think of, mainly taking into account opinions rather than actions.
Those attacks on farmers by people saying nasty things are something to brush off, but the concern is real about regulations continuing to put the squeeze on. You put it well. It encourages some people to not grow, or to get out of it because they get tired. We see it in all aspects of the industry.
I'm going to put on my veterinary practitioner hat. I work and live with it every day.
I look at it from that perspective. I look at the sum total of my career, which has been a long one, and I look at what's important today, compared to almost 40 years ago when I graduated. When I graduated, there was no real thought about pain management in animals, whether companion animals or food animals. In fact, at that time, there were few or no licensed drugs to be used, especially in food animals. It was a very narrow selection.
As we've progressed, there are new issues that we become more attuned to. As professionals, we take actions to deal with them and contribute to improving the health and welfare of the animals we serve.
That's a good question.
NFACC designs the process for developing those codes. The different industry groups take the lead, whether it's beef producers, dairy farmers or chicken farmers. Those groups come to NFACC and say they would like to use its process to renew their codes.
They can also say they would like to use its process for building assessment programs. There are different programs in each of the different sectors. Step one is getting the code. Step two is assessing the code, and going out on the farms to look at their practices and say, “Here's what the code says for requirements and recommendations....”
Several of those programs are multi-faceted now. They'll go out and look at animal care, environment, food safety and different things like that. They are kind of a whole farm assessment program.
We are seeing lots of that. That's done by the leadership of the industry groups themselves. NFACC is the home for making sure the industry groups are doing those, developing those, with a robust process, engaging all the stakeholders that should be engaged, including the public. You come out the other end with a piece that is defensible and very thoroughly done.
Just so it's clear, we're not talking about removing antibiotics or antimicrobials when they're necessary. There's a real distinction to be made there, because animal welfare is really important, and it's more important than restricting or reducing the amount of antimicrobials we use. Animal welfare comes first. In those cases where it's deemed necessary, absolutely every animal that needs it will be administered an antimicrobial.
However, it's been my experience over the years that new modalities occur, and when we have some of our paradigms change or we're asked to look critically at something to do with animal health, we find, when the research gets done, that there are other methods to do it that are just as good and perhaps even better.
Perhaps many years ago we might have had overreliance on antimicrobials, but we're finding many ways to counteract that.
When I graduated, veterinarians were involved primarily with emergency medicine and sick animal medicine and now, starting in the mid '80s, it's been very much a preventative mode. Our major focus is on prevention, and the amount of antimicrobials used is reduced dramatically.
I'll share my speaking time with my colleague, Mr. Peschisolido.
I want to thank our witnesses for their presentation. My question is for Mr. Lee.
My name is Eva Nassif. I'm the member of Parliament for Vimy, a rural constituency in the municipality of Laval, Quebec. My constituency doesn't have any farmers, but it's home to a number of agri-food companies that need farmers.
You spoke—with great emotion—about the challenges involved in rearing animals. How could we maintain the viability of the agri-food industry in Canada while improving public confidence in animal welfare?
That's a large question.
A lot of it is being undertaken by a lot of associations and using some of the work that comes through the National Farm Animal Care Council. We have robust codes of practice that convey what is possible and what is required and recommended that producers do, then we have programs that can be used to check up on that, and then we have to be able to tell that story to the public and connect with the public.
Some of that is the biggest challenge. People who are farming and ranching look at social media and think it's a great way to connect, but a lot of times we're connecting with ourselves. The same goes with whatever circle of conversation you're talking about—it seems to be internal.
As much as we try to partner with retail and food service to answer the questions people have, it's not easy to lodge yourself in there and provide answers proactively, so we focus on what we can do on our farms and being available for anybody who has questions.
We even have public comment and public participation processes in development of these codes. We do all we can, but we can't always reach everybody in their own little worlds.
Thank you to the committee for allowing me to be here today. It's interesting to get that chance. I'm the shadow minister for fisheries, oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard; however, I'm in a landlocked area, and my family are farmers. We are primarily cow-calf producers as well as poultry producers in the south of British Columbia.
Very often, our farmers are unfairly targeted, I feel, by the proliferation of social media and outside interests that are targeting our way of life. Canadian farmers are some of the best in the world. Our products are wanted around the world because, sustainably and ethically, we grow good products. It was interesting in the meeting yesterday, and I'm glad that the farmed fish code was brought up.
I was in a meeting yesterday, and BSE was brought up. Even if it's a regional-based product, cattle products from Alberta are not seen as Alberta beef. It is a Canadian issue, so a concerted effort must be not just reactionary, but it must constant.