by BETTER FARMING STAFF
For a group that is often riven by dissention, delegates to the Ontario Pork annual general meeting this week were remarkably united in backing changes to the Ontario SPCA Act.
They voted 79 to 1 in favour of a zone 3 resolution calling for a united stand by all of Ontario’s livestock groups backing Progressive Conservative MPP Jack MacLaren’s revised private member’s bill, scheduled to be debated in the Legislature next week. The late resolution, presented by Paisley producer Lloyd Holbrook, referred to “recent actions” of the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals that “have been questionable” and “may indicate that OSPCA has become an activist group with police like powers under the OSPCA Act.”
The nearly unanimous nature of the vote left producers wondering who was the lone delegate who voted against it. No one came forward. Voting was carried out anonymously with electronic clickers and there was widespread speculation that the opposing vote was cast in error. Regardless, it was clear that pork producers want the SPCA Act, amended in 2009, to be drastically changed.
“If we send out a divided message we will fall,” Belleville producer and Ontario Pork director Oliver Haan.
Organizations like PETA are supporting the OSPCA, he says. “Its untrained inspectors can come onto your farm and make decisions that affect your operation.”
The current Ontario SPCA Act empowers its inspectors to enter private property as long as the inspector feels an animal is in danger.
Haan says under MacLaren’s revised private members bill, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) inspectors would deal with animal agriculture, while the OSPCA deals with “dogs and cats.” Either a warrant or the owner’s permission would be required before an inspector could enter a farm property. Only police would be able to lay charges.
As it stands “you are guilty until proven innocent, says Oxford County producer Hilmar Hofmeyer. “Some producers are afraid to speak up. They are afraid they will be a target,” he says. “If there is no engagement from this side, the other side has it pretty easy.”
Crystal Mackay, executive director of Farm & Food Care Ontario, (formerly the Ontario Farm Animal Council) says its member groups are already developing a joint statement. Its board will meet to consider that statement on Friday.
“Operationally, our group is not a lobby group,” Mackay says. Farm & Food Care has been talking to the Ontario SPCA and OMAFRA “about how to improve things.”
“We need some political will and support for changes,” she says, adding that “it is a difficult time to ask for change,” when the province is considering cuts to spending. BF