Protecting farm animals, farmers and our food supply

By MPP Toby Barrett

There has been a great deal of talk across Ontario in recent months about animal welfare.

Ontario is changing the way animal welfare laws are enforced. We passed the PAWS Act on January 1st, 2020 – a transparent and accountable measure that keeps all animals safe.

Unless you are a farmer, you may not be aware of another animal issue that has gone overlooked. Farmers have long expressed concern with incidents of trespassing on farms, food processing facilities as well as interference with animals in trucks.

To that end, we have introduced the Security From Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act. If passed, this legislation will better protect farmers, their animals, livestock transporters and Ontario’s food supply.

The health and safety of farmers and farm animals is at the heart of the proposed legislation. With that in mind, explicit prior consent will be required to access an animal protection zone on a farm or food processing facility. We’ve also made it illegal to tamper with signage indicating an animal protection zone or what activities are permitted within that zone.

We reviewed other jurisdictions and feel we have struck the right balance between protecting our farmers, their families and their farm animals while maintaining the fundamental right for people to participate in legal protests. That right existed before we introduced this legislation and it will continue to exist after this legislation passes.

There are people who physically stop trucks from gaining access to processing facilities, by dangerously stepping in front of transport trucks. This is unsafe for that person, the driver and the animals in transport.

Further, interfering with trucks that transport animals can also compromise the integrity of our food system and animal welfare.

Such interference can create unsafe situations for both the animals and the people who are responsible for their safe transport.

It is important to note municipal bylaw officers, emergency services personnel, and any person appointed under an Act relating to animal health or welfare should be exempt under the proposed legislation. Their work requires them to enter farm premises and in their professional capacity of doing so, they would not be undertaking an illegal activity.

It is unacceptable for anyone to feel harassed or threatened at their workplace wherever they legally operate their businesses.

It is important to understand why so many governments are now better protecting biosecurity on farms. Trespassers who are unfamiliar with a premise’s food safety and animal welfare protocols pose an increased risk of unknowingly introducing diseases to animals or spreading disease within a farm or between farms.

Ontario’s agriculture sector is simply too crucial to our economy to allow it to be impacted by illegal activities. Farm security, animal welfare and the integrity of our food safety system are simply too serious and complex to leave to chance.

The goal of this proposed legislation is to be proactive. It is our way in dealing with these issues and our government’s commitment to protect the health and safety of our agri-food sector, farm animal welfare, and food safety.

I’ve said it many times before and I’ll say it again – everyone in Ontario has the right to a safe workplace. This is especially true for farmers whose homes and work are often the same place.

Toby Barrett is the MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk