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New farm security law kicks back against trespassers

None of us – including farmers – should need to keep one eye open at night, wondering if or when our homes or businesses are going to be plundered, ransacked or vandalized.

Yet livestock farmers are increasingly feeling targeted by animal activists, under the guise of exposing wrongdoings.

Some of it is threatening bravado originating from activists on social media. But some is on-farm action too – for example, piglets taken from a farm near Lucan, and mink released from farms near Chatham, and in Perth and Wellington counties.

And it’s not all about animals. Farmers near Alfred found rebar hidden between the rows of their corn crops, hammered into the ground to clearly cause destruction to their equipment.

And routinely, police are called to rural areas to answer vandalism complaints against wind turbines on farms and rural properties.

Most people would prefer level-headed discussions about finding some middle ground between those who produce food and activists or vandals. But by the time a destructive event happens, talking is a moot point.

Back in May, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture issued a warning to producers about trespassers on farm property.

“It’s a growing concern … from rural trail hikers detouring into a pasture to ATV drivers ruining crops, farmers have dealt with all types of unwanted visitors on the farm who leave varying degrees of damage.”

And that’s when the federation started stepping up warnings about activists. 

“The latest threat to farmers, especially livestock farmers and transporters, is the increasing risk of activists trespassing, invading, breaking into barns and harassing farmers, their families and employees,” it said. At the same time, the federation implored producers to join an on-line letter campaign to inform MPPs about trespassing concerns.

In October, the federation stepped it up a notch. It issued a very public demand that the province enact legislation to specifically protect farmers, livestock and the food supply.

And on Monday, with almost breakneck speed, that’s what the province did, by creating the Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act, 2019.

The act still has to be passed in the legislature, but it’s hard to imagine anyone opposing it.

“We’ve heard from farmers who no longer feel safe in their homes, who have expressed concerns with increasing on-farm trespassing and the safety of their families, employees and livestock,” said Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Minister Ernie Hardeman. “Today we are taking action to strengthen protections for agricultural workers and the integrity of our food system.”

Hardeman noted the proposed legislation would address the unique risks and challenges associated with trespassing onto a farm or into a food-processing facility.

These include the risks trespassers pose to the safety of farmers, their families and employees, exposing farm animals to stress and disease; and introducing contaminants into our food supply.

Activists will call the new legislation authoritarian. But Hardeman says no, it provides a balanced approach to protect farms, families, livestock and food safety, while recognizing a citizen’s right to protest.

However, a key component of the legislation is the establishment of what the province is calling“animal protection zones” on farms and at processing facilities, to minimize animal stress and reduce the potential of spreading disease. Enter one of these zones at your own risk.

It’s unfortunate such legislation is necessary. There needs to be closer bonds between farmers and the public.

But there also needs to be protection for farmers. At least now they have what they asked for, which will hopefully ease their minds, at least on this issue. It won’t stop activism and trespassing, but it sends a signal that the province is serious.

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