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As climate warnings loom, new poultry plant last thing Canada needs

Toronto Star logo Toronto Star 6 days ago Jessica Scott-Reid - Opinion
a bunch of different types of food: Maple Leaf Foods Inc. will invest $660 million into building a fresh-poultry facility in London, Ont., the company announced last week. © NATHAN DENETTE Maple Leaf Foods Inc. will invest $660 million into building a fresh-poultry facility in London, Ont., the company announced last week.

While much of America reels from recent news regarding potentially catastrophic effects of climate change in the White House-commissioned National Climate Assessment (NCA), Canadians are instead learning of a new $660-million poultry processing plant opening in Ontario.

With climate research continuing to point to meat production as a clear contributor to climate change, the news of the new Maple Leaf Foods facility has many in the environmental, as well as animal rights communities, scratching their heads.

In reaction to the landmark NCA report, Harvard Law’s Dr. Helen Harwatt, a farmed animal law and policy fellow, advised that “getting protein from plant sources instead of animal sources would drastically help in meeting climate targets and reduce the risk of overshooting temperature goals.”

This recommendation is not new. Last month, the widely publicized U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, and subsequent research in the journal Nature, called on Western countries to reduce poultry and dairy consumption by 60 per cent, and beef and pork by 90 per cent, in order to help avoid serious climate breakdown.

And yet, Canada is investing tens of millions into producing even more meat.

The federal and Ontario governments are providing subsidies for the facility — $28 million and $34.5 million respectively — taking a very contradictory position to governmental climate goals, which seek to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 to 30 per cent below 2005 levels (although the U.N. states that target should be 50 per cent by 2020).

And Maple Leaf Foods, by boasting of its goal to become a “zero waste to landfill facility,” appears to hope the public might forget that global animal agriculture produces more greenhouse gas emissions than all forms of transportation combined and is a leading contributor to freshwater pollution, ocean destruction, deforestation, and biodiversity loss.

Equally confusing is how the optics of this massive, government-backed meat processor contradict with messaging of the forthcoming Canada Food Guide, which, as has been widely reported, will emphasize sustainable eating, specifically recommending Canadians eat more plant-based proteins.

There are also concerns regarding animal welfare. Though Maple Leaf Foods appears proud of their future plant’s advanced technology and greater efficiency, this does not equal better treatment of animals. In fact, the more industrialized, faster moving and further removed from humans the slaughter process becomes, the more animals tend to suffer.

The issue of longer transport times is also worrisome, as three older slaughterhouses are set to close in order to consolidate into the new plant. Canada is already known for having some of the worst farmed animal transport standards in the Western world, including allowing chickens to be transported for up to 36 hours straight, and no laws regarding travel in extreme temperatures.

As issues of climate change, food sustainability and animal welfare continue to cause concern among a growing number of Canadians, it appears obvious that a new multimillion-dollar meat processing plant is the last thing our country needs.

Jessica Scott-Reid is a Canadian freelance writer and animal advocate.

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