By MPP Toby Barrett
We rely on our farmers and food processors to work hard every day to keep our food supply chain strong and to keep food on the shelves and kitchen tables.
In order to do that, farmers have to feel safe in their homes and workplaces. People have a right to participate in legal protests out of concern for animal welfare but that right has never included trespassing on farms or interacting with the transportation of livestock.
Unauthorized people who enter a farm are often unaware of the farm’s biosecurity protocols. They may unknowingly introduce risks such as disease for both the animals and themselves, as well as create undue stress to the animals they claim to want to protect.
We’ve heard many concerns from farmers and food processors who are frustrated that not enough is being done to ensure that unauthorized trespassing is addressed. That’s why our government has passed the Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act, 2020 to create protection for farmers’ livestock and Ontario’s food supply.
I’ve been involved as Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and supported this approach from the outset. I have a farm background. I’ve also had a number of jobs in the food processing industry. I sincerely believe we’ve made every effort to listen to people and listen to stakeholders in crafting this bill. We also learned a great deal from several days of public hearings.
We share a common goal. It’s to implement legislation that will provide that balance that we’re striving for in our deliberations in crafting this legislation, which has now received Royal Assent – a balance between, obviously, the rights of people to participate in lawful process and the right of Ontario farm families to feel safe in their businesses, on their farms and in their homes.
People in Ontario support farmers. They support the great work that farmers do. Our farmers bring hundreds of homegrown products to our tables. During these difficult times we’ve come to appreciate the essential work of agri-business and those who transport our livestock. We depend on them for our food. We want to support them in any way we can to better enable them to continue to do their good work. One way to support them is to have legislation that provides added protection for their safety and that of animals.
The life of a farmer is hard enough, and farmers, as have many others, have been particularly hard hit by what has been going on over the last three or four months. They have to take safety precautions just like anybody else, but like all essential workers, farmers do not have the liberty to self-isolate. They do not have the liberty to stop working. The work of a farmer is never done.
Bill 156 aims to strengthen trespass laws to deter trespassers from unlawfully entering agri-food premises; to establish new rules regarding interfering with the transportation of livestock; as well as interacting with animals being transported; and, to take steps to improve protection from unauthorized entry into food processing facilities to better protect the province’s food supply and maintain Ontario’s high standards of biosecurity.
Toby Barrett is MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk