By Keith Currie
Ontario farm families depend on the safety and security of their farms to raise livestock and grow and produce food to maintain a strong, reliable food supply for all Ontarians. Farms are not only our places of business, they’re our homes where we welcome family and friends and play with our children. The risk of unwanted visitors, trespassers and activists can have devastating impacts on the health and safety of our farms, families and their livestock.
The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) and our 38,000 family farm businesses are firmly in support of Bill 156, the Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act, 2019. Earlier this week, OFA presented our submission to the Standing Committee on General Government regarding Bill 156 highlighting the importance of this legislation for farm businesses, food processing facilities and agri-food workers throughout the value chain. Support for OFA’s position on the positive direction of Bill 156 has been received and echoed by Ontario’s livestock and poultry commodity organizations and the food processing sector.
Ontario farms have come under increasing threat from trespassers and activists who illegally enter property, barns and buildings, breaching biosecurity protocols and causing significant disruptions to the entire agri-food sector. Once peaceful protests have now escalated to trespassing, invasions, barn break-ins, theft and harassment. Activists have stolen private property and threatened the health and welfare of farms, families, employees, livestock and crops, effectively putting the entire food system at risk.
A breach in biosecurity has the potential to pose a much larger risk than just to a single operation. The inclusion of designated animal protection zones will help to eliminate and reduce the risk of distress for farm animals and exposing livestock to disease and stress, as well as introducing contaminates to the food supply.
OFA applauds the Ontario government for introducing this act and taking action against illegal trespassers and activists through Bill 156. This important legislation adequately responds to threats to animal safety, food safety and to the personal safety of our farmers and their families. It enhances trespass protection and provides significant penalties for violations with fines up to $15,000 for a first offence, and up to $25,000 for subsequent offences.
However, there have been comments and statements from those opposing Bill 156 that it stifles free speech, impedes one’s right to protest and prevents exposing the abuse of farm animals. OFA believes it provides a balanced approach to protecting farms while recognizing a citizen’s right to protest.
Concerns around the issue of animal abuse and the ability and obligation to report such actions are entrenched within the Provincial Animal Welfare Services Act, 2019 (commonly referred to as PAWS). OFA believes in exposing animal cruelty by utilizing our existing enforcement services who have the proper authority and training to fulfill these responsibilities. Suspicion of animal abuse or neglect can be reported directly to the Ontario Animal Protection Call Centre, available 24 hours a day.
OFA firmly believes in and advocates for the humane treatment of all animals, including farmed livestock and poultry. Livestock farmers in Ontario are required to satisfy standards of care requirements as outlined under the PAWS Act, and follow the National Farm Animal Care Council’s Codes of Practice, which ensure that animal health, safety, and welfare are prioritized and maintained. These codes of practice are species and industry-specific, and are developed with broad-based input from diverse stakeholders, including farmers, welfare groups, academia, government, and veterinary professionals. They are reviewed every five years to ensure they remain scientifically informed, practical, and reflect societal expectations for responsible farm animal care.
The Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act, 2019 does a commendable job at accomplishing the needs of the agri-food sector to keep our farm and food supply safe across the province. It provides the necessary protection of our farms, families, employees, their animals and the safety of the entire food system.