Written by Heather Clemenceau
Farmers’ markets attract city dwellers the way clover fields draw bees. Every major Canadian city has at least one, and they have been a favourite tool of city planners seeking to develop new communities or rejuvenate rundown parts of town. Typically, farmer’s markets have a new role as a popular anchor for urban redevelopment to lure both tourists and residents as the buy-local food movement gathers momentum. I myself also enjoy farmer’s markets and I’m a frequent patron of the Evergreen Brickworks Market and the Reesor Farm Market. Toronto has an abundance of small markets tucked away in the city that promote local produce and bring colour and life to stagnating urban areas.
Although the Stouffville Market, located northeast of Toronto in York Region, has a large and comprehensive vegetable market, they’ve been hiding a dirty little secret from the nearby community. The Stouffville Market also houses a livestock area that is open-for-business from 3am – 11am on Saturdays most months of the year.
Most Canadians are unaware of the fact that animal abuses are endemic in agriculture in Canada. The Toronto Star recently published an op-ed piece describing why this might be so. The author asserts that peaceful Canada condones such cruelty to farm animals largely due to the fact that these practices are generally concealed from the scrutiny of the public eye. I agree! And with small steps such as highlighting the numerous issues at this market, welfare advocates gradually move towards exposing these and other practices committed against farm animals.
Arguably, this is also the case at the Stouffville Livestock Market as well, where it seems that the only patrons of the market appear to hail from various ethnic and “old world” communities. Despite having an excellent vegetable market on the same premises, the livestock area reminds one of a third-world market where animals are constricted in tiny cages unable to move, then stuffed into onion bags awaiting a horrible fate at some other location. The livestock market is also a fire hazard as both patrons and sellers smoke openly around straw-filled cages.
Stacks of poultry cages packed with live birds fill the area – most of these birds and other animals won’t sell today and will be shipped back in these cages or dropped off at the abbatoir on the way back from the market. We witnessed these plastic “cages” being flung onto the pavement at the market in the early morning, the birds inside utterly commoditized. The market is a little shop of horrors in the early morning too, where customers wait in the shadows at 3am to make their purchases. What reputable business operates in the shadows of darkness at 3am? Although we did not witness it, there were animal sounds emanating from nearby that were consistent with slaughter, which is not permitted on the property. Furthermore, what reputable vendor would toss used-up or weakened birds out on the road or in ditches in onion sacks to drown or slowly die constricted by their onion sacks? Thankfully, there is a kind-hearted good samaritan in the area who collects and rehabilitates these animals, but why is this cruelty perpetuated without repercussions for these sellers?
Throughout the day, vendors barter and patrons go home with chickens, rabbits, and ducks stuffed into onion sacks, where they are put into the trunks of cars. This is November, but I’m sure the practice of putting animals in trunks occurs during the oppressive heat of July as well. We would be outraged at the sight of a dog being put into a trunk or left in a hot car, but where is the outrage here? The problem is that few people, outside of the ethnic community it serves, even know that this market exists.
Although there is some distance separating the two, I’m surprised that the small dead pigs, laid out on flattened cardboard boxes, are so close to all of these chickens and the prodding fingers of prospective purchasers who
may have just visited the livestock area and handled a chicken. I did not see the vendors in this area wearing gloves either. Shipment and adapting to new locations causes stress on birds and makes them more likely to shed bacteria in their droppings. While anyone can become ill from exposure to these germs, the risk of infection is especially high for children, the elderly, and persons with weakened immune systems; for example, people receiving chemotherapy or who are HIV-infected. One of the most important bacteria to be made aware of is Salmonella. Birds infected with Salmonella do not usually appear sick. Salmonella lives in the intestine of infected chickens, and can be shed in large numbers in the droppings. Once shed, bacteria can spread across the chicken’s body as the bird cleans itself and throughout the environment as the chicken walks around. Therefore, it is especially important to carefully wash hands with soap and water after handling young birds or anything that has come in contact with them.
I have confirmed with Dr. Popper of the CFIA that this market is not allowed to sell hoofstock. Yet, today, we see ample evidence of goats and pigs being sold despite the CFIA’s assertions. The market is a disgrace and a blight on the community. They know that they are not permitted to sell hoofstock yet they thumb their noses at regulations. Some vendors appear to be selling Mallard ducks as well, which they assert are Call ducks. This issue remains in contention because Call ducks are usually smaller, stockier, with shorter bills and necks. We are of the opinion that these are Mallard ducks. To report infractions, please contact the Ministry of Natural Resources or call 905.336.4464 for the Canadian wildlife service, and 1.877.847.7667 for infractions.