British Columbia’s Ministry of Agriculture says its proposed changes to the Animal Health Act “will ensure B.C.’s reputation as a producer of safe and healthy foods and animals.” It will also punish anyone who leaks news of a disease outbreak on a farm with fines up to $75,000 and a possible two-year prison sentence.
That language is buried in the first major re-write of the Animal Health Act since 1948. For the most part, the act is a detailed strategy for dealing with animal disease. When outbreaks affect companies such as Tyson and Cargill, they are major safety concerns for consumers.
So updating the Animal Health Act to ensure all disease outbreaks are accurately and quickly reported and dealt with is a responsible thing to do. Most of the revised act addresses safety concerns.
What has set alarm bells ringing are provisions giving government complete control over what information is released and applying stiff penalties for any leaks. The wording of Part 3 of the act means journalists cannot even access details through the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, (FOI) the usual avenue for accessing information held behind closed government doors.
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