Protecting Farms not about Hiding Abuse
The Ontario government has introduced a bill to protect farms from harassment by animal activists. We’ve seen groups of animal activists invade farms to demonstrate with little consideration for the safety of the owners or, frankly, the animals. There has been some news coverage criticizing the legislation as hiding animal abuse and preventing the exposure of bad practices on farms or in processing facilities.
The proposed bill has provisions for significant fines for people who trespass on farms or in processing facilities. It also introduces sanctions for disrupting the transportation of animals. Finally, it prohibits entering farms or processors “under false pretenses.” This precludes getting a job and doing hidden camera videos.
Saying that the “bill aims to hide animal abuse” is at best misleading and at worst simple parroting of the positions of animal activists whose objective is to end animal agriculture altogether. What the bill does is provide the same protection to farmers as the rest of us expect in our own homes. There are those who believe that we shouldn’t have animal agriculture. They have every right to their opinion. They also have the right to advocate in a wide range of ways towards their objective of ending it. But animal agriculture is a legal activity with regulations and standards of animal care. While there are examples of poor treatment, my experience is that the overwhelming majority of livestock producers are caring and excellent stewards of the animals under their care.
It is not reasonable for producers to have people invade their farm because they disagree with animal production. You can’t come into my home because you think I am doing something immoral. In fact, you can’t come into my house if you think I am doing something illegal. You can call the authorities and they can investigate. Animal activists are not swarming farms because they believe that there is illegal activity. They are entering farms because they don’t think animal agriculture should exist at all. That is a critically important distinction that seems lost in the sympathetic media.
There are also real animal health and welfare issues associated with having strangers come on a farm. Biosecurity is important on farms to reduce the risk of disease. People who do not take the appropriate measures (and may have been on several farms beforehand) can expose the animals to bugs unnecessarily. As stressful as it is for the farmers (imagine someone crashing your yard and house), it is equally stressful for the animals. It is not unreasonable to protect both the animals and the producers from harassment without preventing those that want to advocate for the end of animal agriculture. This is about the reasonable protection of the rights of farmers and not about hiding abuse.
I am more equivocal about the prohibition of entering “under false pretenses.” I understand that I just argued we should provide reasonable protections to farmers and this seems to contradict that. I have always been concerned with the US “ag gag” laws that prevent any photography of agricultural premises. I believe that they send a message that animal agriculture has something to hide. In most cases I think animal agriculture has a profoundly good story to tell. I understand that these hidden camera videos can be a concern but in these instances the people coming onto the farm are at least doing so in a managed way and under the appropriate biosecurity measures. I expect it happens much more than we think but in the end the video doesn’t tell the story the activists want to tell.
I might not feel strongly about all of the provisions of the new legislation, but I do strongly believe that the protection of farmers is not only warranted, but essential. Protecting these famers is reasonable and has nothing to do with hiding cruelty.
Recommended citation format: von Massow, M. "Protecting Farms not about Hiding Abuse". Food Focus Guelph (68), Department of Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of Guelph, December 6th, 2019.