Last year, the B.C. government announced it would be incorporating into law the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Dairy Cattle, industry-created standards that set out detailed, species-specific animal welfare guidelines. The press release from the ministry of agriculture contained no specifics about how the regulation would work, stating only that the code of practice would be "adopted."
In announcing the change, B.C.'s agriculture minister Norm Letnick vaguely stated: "As a society, we always need to be working together to ensure all animals in British Columbia are treated with proper care and respect."
There's only one problem with this: it's not true.
The new Dairy Cattle Regulation does incorporate the dairy code of practice, but it does so as a defence rather than as an offence. In other words, the new regulation says that if anyone has been caught harming animals, they will be able to beat the charges by proving that they were complying with the standards set out in the dairy code of practice.
The new regulation does not require dairy producers to comply with the standards in the dairy code of practice. That means that someone could be violating the code of practice and still not be committing an offence.
Incorporating the codes of practice into law as defences rather than offences protects industries, not animals. The animal-friendly way to give the codes of practice the force of law would be to require producers to comply with the standards contained in them. For example, the definition of "distress" (which forms the basis for animal cruelty offences) could be broadened to cover non-compliance with the codes of practice.
For more on the differences between enacting standards as offences vs. defences, please see this article.
To some degree, this discussion is currently almost irrelevant, because existing legislation does not provide for proactive inspections of farms. In practical terms, that means law enforcement officials will only be inspecting dairy operations in response to complaints of witnessed cruelty from the public--something that almost never happens.
However, commercial animal industries should be subject to random, regular, unannounced inspections as part of an independent licensing regime. And when we get around to enacting this common-sense reform, any standards incorporated as defences will not provide the basis for inspections. In order to help animals, inspectors would need to be able to inspect facilities to ensure compliance with standards--something that won't happen if the standards only establish defences.
The animal agriculture industry managed to further protect itself from animal cruelty prosecutions while avoiding the expansion of animal protection rules. Worse, it did this while professing to be on the side of the animals.
The press release from the BC Ministry of Agriculture claims that the dairy code of practice would be adopted to "to improve the welfare of dairy cows in this province." In the same release, the CEO of the BC Dairy Association asserted that "The dairy industry in British Columbia is dedicated to ongoing and continual improvement of animal care practices."
If that's true, why not include the dairy code of practice as an offence, as Newfoundland already did?
Moreover, why not include ALL of the codes of practice? There are pigs, chickens, turkeys, and cattle used for beef who need protection just as desperately as do cows used for dairy, and existing codes of practice for all of them.
The truth is that the dairy industry doesn't want to be regulated, and they will admit as much when confronted with direct questions. But profit-driven animal enterprises can't be trusted to self-regulate. We shouldn't need explosive animal abuse exposés to know that the fox is going to do a terrible job guarding the henhouse.
If the codes of practice are going to be incorporated into animal protection laws, it should be clearly done in a manner that establishes offences. The industry doesn't need any more insulation. It's the vulnerable animals behind closed doors of factory farms that need our protection.