A pilot program launched by the BC SPCA implementing unannounced animal farm inspections is raising questions among some in the ranching community.
The initiative was announced over the summer, and producers were informed shortly after that the BC SPCA would be undertaking surprise inspections at various farms and ranches around the province in the coming months.
The news raised some concerns with the BC Cattlemen’s Association, which sent out a memo to their members in August and have been trying to get some answers as to what prompted the pilot project.
“Our members’ concerns have mostly been around what prompted the SPCA to take on this new measure,” Elaine Stovin, assistant general manager of the BC Cattlemen’s Association, said. “Previously, whenever they would come on-site to look at animals, it would have been complaint-based. So this is a divergence from what they have done in the past.”
Marcie Moriarty, chief prevention and enforcement officer with the BC SPCA, told the Free Press this week that the project isn’t in response to any particular concern, rather a means of determining the best way to proceed with a “third-party auditing system” of production facilities around the province.
She acknowledged there have been some high-profile cases of animal mistreatment, which prompted calls from the public for the provincial government to step up their enforcement of regulations.
“Their response has been ‘we have the toughest laws here in BC,’” Moriarty said. “But I don’t think the response that we have the strongest legislation is helpful when they know the legislation isn’t being enforced in any major, proactive way.”
Moriarty also pointed out that as a non-profit, the BC SPCA doesn’t have the manpower to take on the job of monitoring all the ranches across the province, but is hopeful the pilot project will help lay some groundwork on how best to proceed.
Plans for inspections are set to take place at two farms per commodity – layers, turkey, hogs, beef and dairy – and each visit will include a veterinarian, an SPCA officer and a Ministry of Agriculture staffer. A written report will then be provided to the farmer, and another report – not identifying the farm or farmer – will go to the ministry.
So far, two inspections have taken place, Moriarty said, and she hopes to have all 12 completed by the end of November.
The issue was brought to the Cariboo Regional District board meeting Friday by Area D Director Steve Forseth, who said he has heard some concerns from local ranchers who felt “blindsided” by the announcement.
Forseth said he was hoping the CRD would offer support to ranchers with a request for more information about what prompted this move by the BC SPCA. However, after some discussion Friday, the board voted to receive the Cattlemen’s association memo and take no further action.
“I was hoping to send a letter to the Ministry of Agriculture out of this discussion saying maybe they could play a role for both parties, and do a deep dive into what actually led to this,” Forseth said this week. “And to see if maybe there is some other way to identify what exactly the concern is and how to address it specifically.”
Forseth agreed with Moriarty’s view that it should be a government body, not the SPCA, that is responsible for ensuring regulations around animal welfare on production farms are being followed and enforced.
But he questions the approach with unannounced visits.
“In any other industry, showing up without any forewarning of any issues is basically assuming you’re guilty of something before you’ve had the chance to verify the information,” Forseth said.
Moriarty said it’s in everyone’s best interest to ensure that standards are being met and enforced when it comes to animal production.
“People are concerned about where their food comes from,” she said. “Farmers should be proud if they’re adhering to their own care program and the law, that if there are operations that are not complying, that’s in the best interest of everyone to look into those situations.”