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B.C. law requires animal disease outbreak reports be kept secret under threat of massive fines, to avoid public panic.


We’ve all seen this TV scenario: Investigators are racing to track down the source of a deadly virus, or maybe a terrorist nuclear device, threatening a big city.
But they’re keeping the publicity lid on because they don’t want people to panic.
Well, a move by the B.C. government feels a little like that.
Freedom of information advocates are criticizing provisions of the province’s new Animal Health Act which forbids anyone, including journalists, from reporting an animal disease outbreak.

Health of Animals Act

S.C. 1990, c. 21

Proposed Animal Health Act Changes Advance Agrifood, Stifle Disease Outbreak Disclosures
VICTORIA – Proposed changes to the Animal Health Act will ensure B.C.’s reputation as a producer of safe and healthy foods and animals.
The changes would help prevent the spread of animal disease as well as improving the response to a potential outbreak. These changes are essential to meet our Agrifoods Strategy commitment to expand domestic and international markets.
The proposed changes follow consultation with B.C.’s livestock, poultry and honey producers, federal and provincial government agencies and more than 300 submissions to the ministry’s web-based citizen consultation. Today’s emphasis on food safety and security require we modernize the act, which has not been substantially changed since 1948.
B.C. Agrifoods Strategy included the development of a new animal health framework as one of 49 actions that will lead the B.C. agrifoods sector to becoming a $14-billion-a-year industry by 2017.
The Vancouver Province reported the law requires anyone — a journalist, say, or a farm or lab employee — who learns about an outbreak must keep the details secret or face “administrative penalties,” bureaucratise for fines, of up to $75,000.
According to the Province, a section of the law states: “A person must refuse, despite the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, to disclose . . . information that would reveal that a notifiable or reportable disease is or may be present in a specific place or on or in a specific vehicle.”
The B.C. Agriculture Ministry’s news release on the proposed Animal Health Act said it aims to protect the province’s reputation as a source of safe and healthy foods and animals.
“The changes would help prevent the spread of animal disease as well as improving the response to a potential outbreak,” the ministry said.
“Our government is absolutely committed to ensuring B.C. uses the best disease prevention methods possible, and is prepared to immediately and effectively respond to an animal health emergency,” said Agriculture Minister Don McCrae.
The ministry said the legislation brings British Columbia in line with other provinces and trading partners, though it’s not clear from the news release whether the secrecy provision is used elsewhere in Canada.
The law is supported by poultry and cattle producers’ associations.

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