NANAIMO – BC SPCA has put commercial livestock producers around the province on notice that it intends to launch unannounced inspections of their operations under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.
Six sectors have been chosen for the inspections, which will initially take place on Vancouver Island as part of a pilot program. BC SPCA notified industry in a letter dated June 23 that its inspectors would visit two growers from each of the beef, turkey, egg, broiler, hog and dairy sectors as part of the pilot.
“The letter was to put these industries on notice that we intended to conduct inspections pursuant to s.15.1 of the [Prevention of Cruelty to Animals] Act,” says Marcie Moriarty, chief prevention and enforcement officer with the BC SPCA. “This inspection power was granted to the BC SPCA by the [BC] Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries and was not something that the BC SPCA has lobbied government for. However, as the enforcement agency charged with enforcing the act, we felt it important that we do a sampling of these inspections.”
BC SPCA hoped to complete at least two inspections by the end of August. Agriculture ministry staff and a vet will accompany inspectors. Producers also have the option of requesting the presence of a representative from their industry association or vet during the inspection.
Producers will be asked to provide inspection records and animal welfare plans as required under their sector’s animal care programs. Producers can ask inspectors what concerns, if any, have been identified during the inspection, and can obtain a second opinion in response.
The inspections are limited to commercial growers registered with their respective commodity groups. Small-scale growers, who fall outside marketing regulations, are not included as part of the checks.
“We do not have the resources at the moment to be doing everything,” says Moriarty. “We picked the larger sectors, the ones that have had cases before.”
While both the Dairy Farmers of Canada ProAction initiative and the Chicken Farmers of Canada Animal Care program make use of third-party audits, Moriarty says the inspections are important because they provide independent third-party verification of animal welfare.
“This isn’t something we want to be doing … but we do feel there is a need for third-party auditing and so until that time happens, this was a very small sampling we were going to go forward with,” says Moriarty.
While the inspections are legal, they’re also a departure from the standard complaint-driven investigations BC SPCA has conducted in the past. This has commercial farmers feeling unfairly targeted.
Producer groups met with BC SPCA compliance and enforcement staff on August 4 seeking answers. The meeting included representatives from the BC Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the BC Farm Industry Review Board.
“Animal care is a priority for our livestock members, who seek to continuously refine and advance on-farm standards,” says Danielle Synotte, executive director of the BC Agriculture Council, which facilitated the meeting. “Our focus is on trying to ensure that all parties have a clear understanding of what the inspection process will look like prior to any inspections taking place. As such, industry representatives welcomed the opportunity to engage with the BC SPCA on their pilot proactive inspection initiative to see where they could best support the success of this pilot initiative.”
A collaborative approach was what BC Chicken Marketing Board chair Harvey Sasaki reported to chicken growers when they met later on August 4.
“Being that there are only two inspections per group, we don’t want to appear as not being cooperative as an industry,” says Sasaki. “While you may feel threatened by their request to inspect your operation, denial of access is really not an option.”
Details of all inspections, including denials of access, remain confidential. However, the proportion of farms that deny access to inspectors over the course of the pilot will be published in a report to the BC Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries.
Despite the assurances, the inspections are the latest in a series of events that have put livestock producers on edge. A combination of initiatives, legal and otherwise, from animal rights groups have prompted several producers to tighten security. Regulated commodity groups have been a special focus because they maintain lists of members and keep records regarding producer compliance with codes of practice developed by the National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC).
The codes are developed by industry in partnership with stakeholders, including the SPCA, and are open for public comment prior to being finalized. BC recognizes the codes of practice under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act as the reference for what constitutes “reasonable and generally accepted practices of animal management” that do not cause animals distress.
But the April 2019 invasion of the Excelsior hog farm in Abbotsford highlights public concern, says Moriarty.
BC SPCA declined to press charges against Excelsior and several of the activists involved in the invasion now face charges of break and enter and mischief (the case is set for trial in June 2022), but Moriarty says it highlighted the need for proactive inspections.
“The general call for accountability and transparency within the farming industry [came] out of Excelsior, what happened there. Who are going into these barns that are closed?” she says. “We heard from the public, that they care about animal welfare in farmed animals, and we are the agency responsible for enforcement.”
Some industry members say this smacks of an agenda, especially given that smaller farms get a free pass.
“It is fair to say that SPCA has had a mandate to go after commercial farm activities,” says Abbotsford producer Ray Nickel, also a director of the BC Chicken Marketing Board and former president of the BC Poultry Association. “This isn’t just an innocent ‘We want to follow up on the Code of Practices here,’ or the [Prevention of] Cruelty to Animals Act. There is an underlying agenda, and I think it behoves the BC [Poultry Association] to take some concerted action on behalf of all the associations to put some pressure on the ministry because this isn’t over yet.”
Sasaki says the poultry industry will be following up with the BC Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries regarding the inspections.
“Ultimately it is the Ministry of Agriculture that’s responsible for the legislation and regulations,” he notes.