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Agriculture This Week: Few things are purely black and white

When it comes to politics – especially at the federal government level – few things are ever as black and white as we might like.

Take for example Bill C-275, the private member’s bill to amend the Health of Animals Act, which would increase fines for those who unlawfully enter livestock barns and processing facilities.

The bill -- which arose from a 2019 incident in his riding when about 40 people entered a free-range turkey barn near Fort Macleod -- manoeuvred through Parliament by Conservative agriculture critic John Barlow, would seem pretty straight forward, a bill to protect farm operations from unauthorized people entering their facilities.

But, the bill leaves questions too.

To begin with there are laws against break and enter and even trespass so do you need a new level of protection under the Health of Animals Act?

Or, do you just need to make use of the laws and regulations which already exist?

The answer to better protection is not always more laws.

Now, in the case of livestock operations there is most certainly a high level of concern about bio-security in the face of health concerns such as avian flu, and African Swine Fever. Both of the mentioned diseases, and others, can be devastating to livestock and the losses associated with dead stock is of course huge.

So on that level it’s understandable there is a need for protection with significant teeth to deter unauthorized admittance because there is a level of health threat.

The Bill however also seemed rather clearly pointed at protesters who enter livestock operations to protest intensive farming techniques, or to promote animal rights, and similar issues they feel strongly about.

The right to protest, lawfully, is an important aspect of a democracy, but there are limits.

Does this Bill thwart the ability to protest?

No, but it would potentially stop some actions directly disrupting lawful farming operations.

Suddenly, when you weave the various issues of animal health, farm protests, the ability to farm, and the existence of established laws, all of a sudden Bill C-275 is far from clear cut.

Now before the Senate, the debate on this Bill is likely to be a protracted one, with a variety of points of views put forward as witnesses address the Senate committee on agriculture and forestry.

What the bill ultimately becomes – expect amendments as a matter of course in such things – will be interesting to see in regards to how it impacts the normal operations of the farm.

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