BC Law Could Hide Animal Disease Outbreaks

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.

Precautionary Principle Weighted Toward Business

Writing in The Province, Ethan Baron characterized this move as “duct-taping shut the mouths of any citizens — or journalists — who would publicly identify the location of an outbreak of agriculture-related disease such as the deadly bird flu.”

Agriculture Critic Lana Popham says FOI “is being turned into a piece of Swiss cheese.” When she challenged Minister Don McRae on the provisions that make sharing information a punishable offense, he insisted they did not extend to media or independent scientists. However, as the act is written, anyone giving them information is liable to fines or jail time, so the minister’s verbal assurance is less than reassuring.

This is yet another example of the precautionary principle’s being applied to industry rather than public interest. Whistleblowers, be they farm workers, government employees or anyone else with inside information, will face stiff penalties for leaking any of their concerns.

Bill Vanderspek, manager of the Chicken Marketing Board, says,

An animal-health emergency can be devastating to producers who have invested their entire lives in producing the best possible foods for British Columbians, and the communities they are part of.

A Balancing Act

Vanderspek is right. Even the suspicion of a disease outbreak can cost a farmer her livelihood or close the doors of a major processing plant. On the other hand, public safety should always trump the needs of private business.

Still, Minister McRae makes a valid point in his letter responding to Ethan Baron’s column, when he says:

The farmers and veterinarians that I have talked to agree that the best way to ensure that disease outbreaks are reported early is to assure farmers that their information will be treated in a strictly confidential fashion. The new Animal Health Act does that.

In many ways, animal health records are as personal to owners as are their own health records. However, disclosure of this information will be guided by public safety and with the proper context so as not to harm the reputation and livelihood of the families that make their living as farmers.

So what do you think, Care2 readers? Will the health and safety of British Columbians be helped or harmed by the provisions that guard the confidentiality of information concerning disease outbreaks?

Related Care2 Stories

Cargill Recalls Ground Turkey, Again

Is Meat Glue Safe?

Trashing Cows: Tyson Recalls Ground Beef

Big Ag: Small Farms Make You Sick

Photo credits: Thinkstock


Carrie Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

Ian Morrison
Ian Morrison6 years ago

Hi Grahame B,
I havent been able to get my messages to you on the site. I wrote a long explanation but it woudnt go through. Not for the first time on the site. Can you suggest any other way of replying to your points.

Julie Evans
Julie Evans6 years ago

Good reason to go Vegan.

Maria D'Oporto
Past Member 6 years ago

Ian thankyou to share we need to learn from reality.

jackie w.
Jackie w6 years ago

CCC : Thanks for the info. Appreciated.

Ian Morrison
Ian Morrison6 years ago

Hi Grahame B,

Sorry cant answer all your points tonight, but will do on Saturday. I have a 4 am start in the morning and working till late.
I am convinced that the disease came from the feed though, but what was in the feed is another matter. I think its significant though that the Ministry vet wasnt surprised when I told him the brand of feed and the company it was bought from. Also that same vet is now Head Vet for Scotland.
One more thing is injectible growth hormones were banned in the UK around 1982/3. So that wasnt a factor in my calves born in 1985. At the time we were totally baffled that a herd that was 99% self reliant could ever come down with a disease like that. We had thought a virtually closed herd could not be affected, but we werer sadly proved wrong.
I promise to write more at the weekend. BTW my Addy- ianamorrison

Ian Morrison
Ian Morrison6 years ago

Chapter 3. I obviously cant get the full story in 1 message.

As Ive said. 1 cow from the year 1986 eventually succumbed to the disease, but she was one that I had put into the feeding system, with the non breeding hiefers and bullocks. She had been there for about a month, when I decided to move her back in amongst the breeding hiefers again. In that month she had certainly eaten other bought in feed. As indicated we had to buy in 10 yearling hiefers in 1988 as we didnt have enough decent breeding hiefers in that years group, and 1 of them eventually succumbed, but I put that down to feed consumed before we bought them. Over the next couple of years around another 5 or so 1985 born cows succumbed, but then the disease disappeared.
In conclusion, I think we were unlucky that we got the infected feed from that certain company in that certain year. The scary thing is, along with the 30 breeding hiefers from 1985, there was also around another 170 male and female calves that ate the feed, but went on to be fattened, slaughtered, and eventually consumed by humans in this country. How many more on other farms in the area, were also consumed by us? If vCJD followed the pattern of BSE in cattle, surely there would be millions of people dying of the disease by now, but the figures dont bear this out.
I hope you get to read this Grahame, and would be happy to answer any questions you would like to ask.
All the best,

Ian Morrison
Ian Morrison6 years ago

Sorry, the full message didnt go through there.
As I was saying, those 3 cows eventually died or were culled as we were worried about Johnes disease, but in the following summer of 1989, another 2 cows started losing condition,they developed a strange gait and seemed to be increasingly nervous. One day when I had them in for some routine treatment, they started going crazy in the handling crush, trembling violently and roaring wildly. I called in our own vet, and he agreed with me it looked like Mad Cow Disease. We then called in the Ministry vet, who euthanazed both cows and removed the heads for analysis, and BSE was confirmed. Next I had to answer numerous questions on what feed these animals had consumed. And when I told them the only bought in feed they had consumed was baby calf pellets from this certain company, they werent surprised at all. Also another thing that always stuck in my mind from those discussions, was when I asked, why we, as a country were the only ones affected, I was told, by the ministry vet, that he had seen BSE in France, but "Over there they just put them in a hole".In other words we tried to do something about it, while others covered it up.
Anyway over the next couple of years another 5 or so from the same year came down with the disease, and were slaughtered. We were then worried about the next years replacements,but only 1 of these ever came down with the disease, and she had been one, which I had originally moved onto the feeding system on

Ian Morrison
Ian Morrison6 years ago

Hi again Grahame B,

Im gonna try and give you some of My experience of BSE. Forgive me if its a bit long winded. I was in charge of a herd of around 250 suckler cows, and all their progeny,on an estate in Fife, Scotland from 1985 to 1996. On previous farms I had been on I had always fed baby calf pellets,from local feed companies, to feed to the young calves during the winter months, before moving them onto rolled barley. I always felt this was a good way of starting the calves onto "hard" feed,as it can be dangerous for calves to digest too much barley, and the dust from the rolled barley, was hard on their lungs, promoting pneumonia.The baby calf pellets was the only bought in feed that any of the calves that were kept for breeding ever consumed.The herd was 99% self supporting, the only stock that were bought in were Breeding bulls and the occasional baby calf bought in from local dairies to foster onto the occasional cow who's cald had died. All our breeding replacements came from our own herd. Apart from 1 year which I will come to later.
Every year I would pick around 30 of the best hiefer calves as breeding stock, the rest of that years calves, male and female, were then fed and fattened off as beef at around 18 months old.The breeding hiefers born in 1985, were introduced to the herd, and produced calves normally for about 4 years, but around 1988/89, the odd cow born in that year would start to lose condition, and 3 eventually died, or were culled, as we were wo

Waheeda Smith
Waheeda S6 years ago

Hiding this kind of information is not acceptable! More transparency respecting the "food chain" is needed; not less. And worse, it makes it open season on the ill-treatment of animals. :(