Keeping an eye on animals
A conversation with animal advocate Lesley Moffat
By Patricia Dumais
I recently attended a very interesting talk sponsored by the Westmount Healthy City Project entitled “On the Road to Better Animal Welfare”. It featured Stephanie Brown of the Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals and former Westmounter Lesley Moffat of Eyes on Animals, both active in the movement to promote the welfare of animals raised for food in Canada and in Europe. Stephanie and Lesley work tirelessly to improve the daily living and transportation conditions of animals, as well as ensuring the enforcement of standards and laws for humane handling in slaughterhouses.
Their presentation was a real eye opener, even for a person well read on the subject as myself. For example, did you know that animals are routinely trucked across Canada over long distances for days, exposed to the elements, in sub-zero or scorching hot weather, without food or water, crammed into containers that are neither heated or air conditioned? Many animals arrive at destination in very poor condition, suffering from heat stroke or sunburn, or broken bones from having been trampled by other animals. In winter animals can freeze to death. Needless to say, we have some of the laxest regulations. I could go on with all the appalling factory farm practices but I will leave it to you to check out the links at the end of this article.
But it is not all bad news. Progress is being made because courageous investigators from a number of animal advocacy groups are shedding light on cruel industry practices. Public awareness and pressure are now bringing about important changes in the industry.
… courageous investigators from a number of animal advocacy groups are shedding light on cruel industry practices. Public awareness and pressure are now bringing about important changes in the industry.
Prior to the presentation I had a chat with Lesley over what drove her to become an animal advocate in the first place. She told the story of how she always loved animals. “My grandparents were cattle-ranchers and when I was little I would spend time on the family farm in Southern Ontario. I eventually made the connection that those animals would become food. When I asked how they were treated when the time came for them to be slaughtered, I was reassured that it was done as humanely as possible.” At the age of eleven, she came across Animal’s Voice, a publication devoted to animal rights. “That’s when I found out how most farm animals are really treated. I was very upset at not having been told the truth and I instantly became a vegetarian!”
She credits The Study for allowing her to form a Peace Club devoted to the environment as well as human and animal rights. “We organized activities such as vegetarian BBQs, soup kitchens and volunteering at the SPCA.” She went on to regularly volunteering for Urban Animal Advocates and the SPCA, focussing on the abolition of puppy mills.
At that time, not much was being done in the way of animal rights for farm animals. Lesley pursued her studies at the University of Guelph in Animal Sciences and acquired her Masters in Ethology under Professor Emeritus Ian Duncan. She specialized in poultry, studying their foraging and pecking habits. During her studies at Guelph she met a young German sugar beet farmer and followed him back to his farm in Germany where she lived for six years. She eventually wound up working with Animal Angels, monitoring the transportation of farm animals in France, with occasional assignments in Canada.
At that point she felt the need to start something on her own. “I believed that we could achieve better results working with the industry instead of counting on the European Commission.” She next found herself settling down in Amsterdam, a city that she just loves and an important agricultural hub where she learned Dutch and founded Eyes on Animals, an independent non-profit animal welfare charity.
She began to work with the agriculture industry, making contacts with truck drivers in hope of educating them about animal welfare regulations. “Fortunately some truck drivers are very concerned about the live merchandise they are transporting and are quite cooperative when it comes to looking out for the animals’ condition. For example, sheep sometimes give birth during transit. If the young are not separated from the rest of the animals, they may be trampled to death.” Lesley gives courses to truck drivers as well as the police, to make sure they are aware of regulations and best practices. “The police have been very helpful — they make more frequent checks on animal transports since our education program.”
Her organization operates throughout Europe and Turkey with a small permanent staff, as well as freelancers and volunteers. “Our team of inspectors follow the animals from transportation to slaughter — we are essentially doing a job the Government should be doing.”
I asked her what can ordinary people do to help animals and she offered this advice: “It all starts with your food choices. Of course the best solution is to go vegan but reducing your consumption of animal products is a good first step. Choose organic free-range eggs, organic poultry and meats, and buy from small farmers. Changes in your food choices changes things!”
… the best solution is to go vegan but reducing your consumption of animal products is a good first step. Choose organic free-range eggs, organic poultry and meats, and buy from small farmers. Changes in your food choices changes things!
Apart from mistreatment of animals, there are many other reasons for abstaining from eating animal products. The present animal agriculture industry is not sustainable — it uses vast amounts of resources and is responsible for a large percentage of greenhouse gasses that contribute to climate change, and animal waste produces enormous amounts of pollution. Experts from both the World Health Organization and the Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations expound the virtues of “predominantly plant-based diets, rich in a variety of vegetables and fruits, pulses or legumes, and minimally processed starchy staple foods. The evidence that such diets will prevent or delay a significant proportion of non-communicable chronic diseases is consistent. A predominantly plant-based diet has a low energy density, which may protect against obesity.”
Lesley is optimistic that, with education, more changes will come but we still have a long road ahead, especially in Canada. Her job is to make sure that in the mean time, the road is a less stressful and painful one for animals.
For more information about Lesley’s work I invite you to visit the Eyes on Animals web site at eyesonanimals.com
Look up the Canadian situation regarding farm animal welfare on the Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals web site at humanefood.ca
Feature image: Eyes on Animals inspector with newborn lamb at Turkish border.
All images courtesy of Eyes on Animals.
Patricia Dumais, artistic director, award-winning graphic designer specialized in brand design is co-founder of Visionnaires, publishers of Westmount Magazine. Patricia develops visual concepts and ensures that all deliverables follow our publication’s standards and reflect the editorial voice. You can connect with Patricia on Linkedin, Twitter and Pinterest. or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.