Proposed federal farm biosecurity bill concern for animal advocates

A Canadian animal law advocacy organization is raising concerns over a bill that has been introduced in the House of Commons designed to secure biosecurity on farms.

Agriculture critic, John Barlow, tabled Bill C-275 to protect biosecurity of food supply and to prevent people from trespassing onto farms and facilities. The bill would see those who do trespass hit with fines up to $500,000, and or, jail time.

This is the second time Barlow has brought forward this kind of bill. Last year, Bill C-205 had support from the NDP and Bloc, however, the Liberals first voted against it in the House, but then supported it as it passed through committee. The bill was dissolved when the federal election was called in 2021.

In a phone interview with CityNews, Barlow said he got the idea for the bill after a group of protesters trespassed into a turkey barn in his riding in southern Alberta back in 2019, which he said added stress to the animals and the farm family. He said this happened a week after some of those same animal advocates were arrested in B.C. for trespassing on a hog farm.

“I know the protesters would never do this on purpose, but clearly they didn’t understand the very strict biosecurity protocols that farmers and producers have to abide by to protect the biosecurity on their farms,” Barlow said, explaining those protesters that were in B.C. could have brought a disease from one farm or animal to another without knowing.

“We’re in the midst of a global food crisis, where food security is a top priority and Canadian agriculture is going to have to carry a lot of that burden,” Barlow said.

This comes as Canada sees another outbreak of avian influenza, which he said has devastated flocks across the country, and while there’s already concerns for other existing diseases that have killed thousands of animals in the past, such as mad cow disease.

RELATED: Everything you need to know about Canada’s massive avian flu outbreak

Barlow said this bill is meant to let animal advocates know they are welcome to protest the issues they are passionate about — but on public property and not trespassing onto private property, and “potentially put the biosecurity of our food supply at risk.”

“We’re just saying please respect the protocols that are in place to protect not only those animals, but also potentially tens of thousands of animals across the country if we were to have an outbreak of one of these diseases,” he said.

The bill, he said, is also about protecting people with cause working on farms, in facilities, and transportation, as well as the animals.

He said this legislation also does not stop whistleblowers, adding “if it’s somebody working on a farm and they see something… someone doing something that [they] shouldn’t, we want them to come forward.”

“We want to protect our animals and we want to protect our food supply, and if somebody is not following the rules, and our very strict biosecurity regulations and animal care regulations, we want them to be held accountable,” Barlow said.

“Hundreds of thousands of birds have been euthanized in Canada as a result of avian influenza, there are real consequences and that is what we’re trying to avoid with this legislation,” he said.

“Can you imagine how difficult this is for a farm family having to euthanize the animals that they have cared for, for their entire lives, this isn’t just a matter of these animals die, in many cases, a ranch for example, you have to cull that herd,” he said, “it is absolutely heartbreaking, and I’ve seen it firsthand.”

RELATED: Ontario challenged on law making it illegal for people to go undercover on farms

Lawyer and executive director of Animal Justice, Camille Labchuk, said she agrees that biosecurity is a concern, especially with the avian influenza spreading across the country, seeing farmers having to cull millions of birds, such as chickens and ducks.

Labchuk says some provinces have already passed laws that make it illegal for people to go undercover on farms and slaughterhouses with the intent to report on conditions, including Ontario, and this bill would make it an extra offence for someone to go onto a farm without permission instead of really protecting the animals and food supply.

“Trespassing onto farms is already an offence,” Labchuk said, “trespassing is not the source of biosecurity concerns on farms.”

Labchuk said Animal Justice analyzed federal data from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency “that goes back decades and looks at reportable federal diseases,” and she said there’s never been a case of an animal advocate trespassing on a farm and introducing a disease.

“Usually diseases come from the actions of farmers themselves because we know that here it’s the biosecurity protocols in this country that’s notoriously poor,” she said.

She said many of the outbreaks investigated by the CFIA were traced back to the feeding of diseased animal parts to live animals, the sharing of needles and equipment, trailers not being disinfected, and farm animals exposed to wild animals with viruses.

If this bill makes it to the committee study after debate, Labchuk said they would support broadening the scope of the bill so that it’s not just people who are on farms without permission, but include “farmers and farm workers as well who don’t follow the rules, who create risk, and who result in these situations where animals end up with diseases and have to be killed en masse.”

“Legislation aimed at cracking down on transparency and truth in the food system is inappropriate,” she said.

“We’re in a country where we don’t actually regulate animal welfare on farms, we let industries make up their own rules, and watch themselves and do their own job policing themselves, so the public has very few opportunities to understand the reality of the very troubling conduct that sometimes occurs on factory farms in this country,” Labchuk said.

Labchuk said if Canadians want to see change, they need to contact public officials and let them know their concerns.

Top Stories

Top Stories

Most Watched Today