AuthorLesli Bisgould
ProfessionAdjunct Professor, Faculty of Law
Laws, like saus ages, cease to ins pire respect in proportion a s we
know how they are m ade.
John Godfrey Saxe, A merican poet, The Daily Cleveland Herald, 186 9
In R v Dudley and Stephens,1 the necessity defence was rejected in the
case of two sailors charged with murder after they killed a nd ate their
companion while shipwrecked at sea; as f ar as the common law was con-
cerned, no matter how dire the circumstances, it could never be legally
necessary to k ill another human being to sustain oneself. The subject of
this chapter is t he law in respect to the beings we do per mit ourselves
to eat. Agriculture falls under both federal and provincial jurisdiction
and there is extensive legi slation at both levels, in addition to industry-
created recommended codes of practice. In order to understand how
the laws governing this vast industry are interpreted and applied, one
must have a sense of the context. In this chapter, Part A provides a brief
overview of the modern indust ry; Part B is an overview of animal life in
that industry; and Part C reviews the legislative scheme.
1 [1881–85] All ER 61 (QB), as discussed in t he Introduction.
Since the Second World War, consumption of animals and animal
products has become big business. In Canada, we now kill at least 700
million anima ls for food every year.2 In the United States, the number
is greater than 9 billion animals and global ly, the meat, dairy, and egg
industry kills 56 billion animals every year.3
Like any transform ative sociological and economic development,
the dramatic incre ase in animal consumption is attributable to a num-
ber of factors; however, the most unequivocal are the industriali zation
of agriculture and its par tnership with the research industry. Early in
the twentieth century, animal slaughter was already a highly mechan-
ized process.4 After the Second World War, breeding and raising ani-
mals became i ncreasingly eff‌icient, allowing anim als to be produced on
a scale that had never been seen before. “Farmers” became “producers”
and Old MacDonald’s farm ceased to resemble children’s drawings.5
The availability of antibiotics allowed for the intensive conf‌inement
of animals. This brought the animals indoors, out of public view. Major
corporations with no connection to agr iculture, such as bus compan-
2 The exact number i s unknown. Agricult ure and Agri-Food Canad a collects
slaughterhouse st atistics in respect of some s pecies raised and ki lled on land,
but not f‌ish and other se a creatures. The 700 million numb er is based on 2008
statistic s for hogs, cattle, calves, sheep, and l amb slaughtered in both federal ly
and provinci ally inspected facil ities, and poultry, including ch ickens, turkeys,
ducks, and geese : Canadian Food Inspe ction Agency, compiled by Agriculture
and Agri-Food C anada, online: ww isplay-aff‌icher.
do?i d=117767631697 1&lan g=eng .
3 See 2007 stati stics collected by Food and Agr iculture Organizat ion of the
United Nations’ Global L ivestock Production and Healt h Atlas, online:
http://kids.f (enter theme: L ivestock population).
4 Upton Sinclair ’s 1906 novel, The Jungle (New York: Bantam Books, 1981), alerted
readers to the br utal conditions for both workers a nd animals in the tu rn-of-the-
century Ch icago stockyards. Their met hods inspired Henr y Ford in his conception
of the assembly l ine production of cars. The novel is th ought to have been a factor
which led to the Unite d States’ f‌irst meat insp ection legislation, and the de velop-
ment of the Bureau of Chem istry, which became the Foo d and Drug Administ ration.
5 Thousands of pigs can b e kept in a single building; at lea st 15,000 pigs living in
one building in A lberta were killed in a f‌i re: “Massive Blaze at Cluny Hutter ite
Colony” (1 August 2009), online: /an/
local/CT VNews/20090801/CGY_pig _f‌ire_090801/ NFL. Egg producers keep
an average of anywh ere from approximately 11,000 layers (Albe rta) to 50,000
(Newfoundland an d Labrador), and the number i s growing: Egg Farmers of
Canada, 2010 Annual Repor t (Ottawa: Egg Fa rmers of Canada, 2011) at 25.
Food 163
ies, life insurance companies, and oil companies, became the owners
or part owners of farm ing operations, thereby gaining t ax concessions
and diversifying their prof‌its. Living animals began to be regarded as
machines that convert low-priced fodder into f‌lesh. Growth hormones
made them grow bigger and faster and conti nuing innovations have
sought an ever more eff‌icient conversion r atio.6 Across North America,
small producers have had to adopt modern methods, establish a niche,
or go out of business. There continue to be family farms in Canada, but
they are much like the belugas of the St. Law rence River, polluted by the
eff‌luent of mega-corporations and headed for an unpleasant death.7
Globally, the industrialization of agriculture has had cata strophic8
6 Research now also i ncludes the growing f‌ield of biotech nology. For example,
biotechnology ma nipulates the DNA of anima ls like the Enviropig engi neered
at the University of Gue lph, Ontario, so as to produce waste w ith less phos-
phorous, and AquaA dvantage Salmon, developed in New foundland and Prince
Edward Islan d, engineered to grow bigger a nd faster.
7 To note an exception, as people beg in to learn about and respond to t he harms
of industri alized agricultu re, a small but apparently grow ing movement seeks
to return to more loc al and sustainable organ ic farming. As subsidie s and tax
incentives cont inue to favour large, factory operat ions, the long-term fate of the
new wave of family f arms remains prec arious.
8 Approximately 1.5 billion cows populate t he earth, occupyi ng nearly one
quarter of the pl anet’s landmass. The popul ation is destroying nat ural habitat
and interr upting ecosystems on six c ontinents. Herding is a pri mary factor in
the destr uction of the world’s remaining tropica l rain forests. Million s of acres
of ancient forest in Cent ral and South America ar e felled and cleared to make
room for pasturel and to graze cows for richer nat ions. Herding is respon sible
for much of the spreadi ng desertif‌ication in sub -Saharan Afric a and western
rangeland s in the United States and Aust ralia. Runoff from feedlots i s a major
source of pollution and a se rious threat to water safet y. Cows are a major source
of global warm ing, emitting methane ga s, which prevents heat from esc aping
the Eart h’s atmosphere. The list go es on.
See Jonathan S afran Foer, Eating Animals (New York: Little, Brown a nd Co,
2009); Jeffrey Moussa ieff Masson, The Face on Your Plate: The Truth About Food
(New York: WW Norton & Company, 2009); Food and Agric ulture Organiza-
tion of the United Nation s, Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues an d
Options by Henning Steinfeld (Rome: Foo d and Agriculture Organ ization of the
United Nations, 20 06); Erik Marc us, Meat Market: Animals, Ethics, and Mone y
(Minneapoli s: Brio Press, 2005); Stuart L aidlaw, Secret Ingredients: The Brave
New World of Industrial Farm ing (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 20 04); Eric
Schlosser, Fast Food Nation : The Dark Side of the All-American Meal (New York:
Houghton Miff‌lin, 2 001); Howard F Lyman with Glen Mer zer, Mad Cowboy:
Plain Truth from the Cattle Rancher Wh o Won’t Eat Meat (New York: Touchstone,
1998) [Lyman & Merzer]; Jeremy Rifki n, Beyond Beef: The Rise and Fall of the
Cattl e Culture (New York: Penguin Bo oks, 1992); Orville Sc hell, Modern Meat:
Antibiotics, Hor mones, and the Pharmace utical Farm (New York: Vintage Books,
1985); Mark Gold, Assault and Batter y: What Factory Farming Means for Humans

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