What does the Provincial Animal Welfare Services Act mean for livestock and poultry producers?
By Jackie Clark
Ontario is one step closer to enacting its new animal welfare legislation.
On Oct. 29, Bill 126, the Provincial Animal Welfare Services (PAWS) Act, 2019, passed its first reading in the legislative assembly. While the bill refers to farm animal care in sections on standards of care, distress, and inspections, the legislation does not list specific best practices or prohibited activities related to livestock.
The bill addresses standards and administrative requirements for animal care. However, activities related to agricultural animals are considered exceptions if they are “carried on in accordance with the reasonable and generally accepted practices of agricultural animal care, management or husbandry,” according to the bill.
Similarly, agricultural activities are also excepted from the prohibition of causing, permitting, or exposing animals to undue risk of distress.
“Under the old model, the agricultural sector was exempt from prohibitions related to causing distress and the prescribed standards of care if following generally accepted agricultural practices. In the proposed new model, that exemption will initially continue while we develop new agriculture-specific standards of care,” Brent Ross, a spokesperson for the Ministry of the Solicitor General, said in a statement to Farms.com.
“We will consider the National Codes of Practice and consult with the agricultural sector and other stakeholders as part of the development (of new standards). If passed, the government intends to bring forward transitional regulations to ensure the protection of animals while long-term regulations are developed through consultations, including with advice from the multi-disciplinary table,” Ross explained.
The bill establishes a chief animal welfare inspector who will appoint additional animal welfare inspectors.
“The proposed new provincial animal welfare enforcement model provides a new approach to oversight that increases transparency and accountability, addressing concerns about a lack of oversight over the previous system,” Ross said. “Specialized inspectors with expertise on agriculture and equines will be available to provide advice and support to inspectors. All inspectors will be trained on biosecurity requirements.”
Under the new legislation, animal welfare inspectors may enter commercial agricultural places to ensure compliance with standards of care.
“Inspectors will only be able to enter a premise without a warrant under specific circumstances. For example, if the inspector has reasonable grounds to believe an animal is being harmed or is in danger of being harmed, or if evidence of animal cruelty is being destroyed and there is no time to secure a warrant to prevent either of these things from taking place,” said Ross.
Welfare inspectors may call on police assistance, and the police or inspectors themselves may use “whatever force is reasonably necessary to execute the warrant,” according to the bill.
When asked about protection for farmers in cases of trespassing or vandalism from animal welfare activists, Ross recommended producers consult with OMAFRA.
If passed, the Bill will come into law and be enforced by Jan. 1, 2020.
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