Federal “Ag Gag” Bill Could Punish Negligent Farmers After Amendments at Committee

A legislative committee studying the proposed federal agricultural gag, or “ag gag”, law has amended the bill in response to concerns raised by Animal Justice and other animal protection groups, legal scholars, and even the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (“CFIA”). 

Bill C-205 was introduced by Conservative MP John Barlow, and was originally designed to target animal advocates and concerned citizens. The Bill threatened these individuals with huge fines and even jail time for going onto a farm without permission. Bill proponents said this was necessary to protect biosecurity on farms and prevent disease outbreaks, because people on farms without permission could introduce pathogens that harm animals. Yet the Bill would have exempted farm owners and operators—even though disease outbreaks caused by the actions of farm owners and operators are numerous, well-documented, and have had devastating consequences for animals and public health.

A new Animal Justice report, based on data from CFIA investigations, shows that disease outbreaks are regularly linked to standard farming practices and poor adherence to biosecurity protocols by farm owners and operators. Many of the outbreaks investigated by the CFIA were traced back to troubling practices like sharing needles and equipment, feeding animal parts back to animals, failure to properly disinfect trailers, and the exposure of farmed animals to virus-carrying wild animals.

Meanwhile, there has never been a single documented case of an animal advocate causing or contributing to a disease outbreak in Canada. And of course, entering farms without permission is already illegal. 

Many Members of Parliament on the House of Commons Agriculture Committee clearly paid heed to the evidence about the disease risks regularly caused by farmers (despite not hearing oral testimony from Animal Justice or any other animal protection groups). At a meeting on June 17, 2021, the Committee amended the Bill so that it applies to farm owners and operators, and not just animal advocates. If the Bill passes, farm owners and operators could be held accountable for breaching biosecurity protocols and exposing animals to pathogens that could reasonably harm them.

Research has shown that adherence by farmers to biosecurity protocols is notoriously poor in Canada and around the world, so this amendment is an important step toward protecting the health of animals on farms.

However, more needs to be done. Canada doesn’t comprehensively regulate biosecurity on farms. The CFIA publishes voluntary biosecurity guidelines, developed in cooperation with the farm industry and government. But following these guidelines is not a legal requirement for farmers. Instead, there should be clear rules that farmers must follow to prevent disease, and greater accountability for farmers that break the rules and cause devastating consequences for animals and the health of Canadians.

Now that the Committee has completed its study of Bill C-205, the Bill will return to the House of Commons for a third reading vote, which is unlikely to occur until much later this year because Parliament is about to break for the summer. If the Bill passes a third reading vote, it will then go on to be considered by the Senate.

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