A fundamental lesson from the COVID-19 pandemic is that humans can be disease carriers, as well as victims, and that precautions must be taken to prevent disease from spreading.
That’s one of the reasons members of the public can’t just walk onto a farm and check it out, which animal activists are now calling an illegal obstruction.
On Monday, they told an Ontario legislative committee that a pending new bill called the Security from Trespass and Animal Safety Act violates freedom of speech.
The activists want access to farms, processing plants and livestock transports when they think animals are being mistreated and blow the whistle on those who they consider responsible.
Farmers disagree. It was their concerns over trespassing that sparked the legislation in the first place. They counter by saying a farm is their home, and that no one should be able to march into anyone’s home and start passing judgment.
Farmers contend that there are enough checks and balances in place already to govern the treatment of animals to prevent widespread abuse.
Clearly, say the activists, pointing to ambush videos of livestock being mishandled on the farm, in a processing plant or during transportation, that’s a matter of opinion.
Farmers also note that living organisms like humans – and just about anything else that enters a farm, such as a vehicle with dirt on its tires – can harbour disease. Research from the University of Guelph and elsewhere has shown how this transmission works and how animal herds, which are typically isolated from human contact other than farmers and veterinarians, are at risk.
You can’t argue with that. These days, you can’t even go to your cottage for fear of spreading disease to those around you. Even during non-pandemic times, how can you expect to go onto a farm?
It’s unlikely the activists’ efforts will stop the bill from proceeding. Such an action would send the farm community into a frenzy. And although politics have taken a backseat to health matters over the past few months, inevitably an election will take place in Ontario and the provincial Tories don’t want to toy with their strong rural base.
Besides, activists don’t belong on farms.
And neither does abuse.
But education? Well, that’s another matter.
Many animal-activist groups’ goal is to shut down all livestock production. Period. People need to know that and learn about these groups’ intentions. They aren’t out to just abolish abuse. They are out to stop farmers from raising animals for food, and farmers are vulnerable to their attacks.
But the fact that activists can convince some members of the public that what they see in an ambush video represents common agricultural practices points one again to the huge lack of understanding about farming.
Recently, a national campaign called It’s Good, Canada was launched to help connect consumers with food production.
The campaign, run out of the Guelph-based Canadian Centre for Food Integrity, has its hands full. It’s embarking on a job that will never be finished. The industry it represents must realize that and make a long-term commitment to helping the centre develop communications, programs and partnerships that can have a lasting effect.
Organizers know very well the time and resources required to move the public opinion needle even a little.
And in the end, it’s public opinion that will determine how much latitude farmers have to produce animals.