A B.C. animal rights activist is calling for CCTV systems in farm animal quarters and a new, independent animal agriculture inspection agency.
“The lack of transparency and accountability in the animal agriculture industry remains a significant problem,” says Amy Soranno, who's presently appealing her high-profile criminal conviction after trespassing on an Abbotsford hog farm in April 2019 to expose alleged abuse.
In the wake of Soranno’s criminal prosecution, the Ministry of Agriculture and Food struck up an advisory committee to examine its animal welfare framework.
The committee is said to comprise of animal welfare experts, such as the BC Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and also meat industry stakeholders. Their job is to make recommendations to the deputy minister later this year, according to a ministry spokesperson, who said Minister Pam Alexis was unavailable to speak to the matter.
“Ensuring animals are treated ethically and with care is a priority for the B.C. government and we know that farmers and ranchers take animal welfare very seriously as well,” the ministry stated, noting it has worked with farmers and ranchers to adopt the National Farm Animal Care Council Codes of Practice that cover animal handling, feed, water and housing into provincial legislation in 2019.
Last month Premier David Eby said "animal welfare is a priority for British Columbians" and also expressed concern about animal rights activists trespassing on farms.
"We do have an issue of individuals who can't wait for the SPCA and decided to go into a farm and do that work independently."
"It's an unacceptable situation so we have had to clarify our Trespass Act to ensure people understand the Trespass Act protects farms," said Eby.
The ministry also says it conducts inspections at each provincially licensed slaughterhouse when animals are being processed “to monitor animal welfare and ensure consumer safety.”
But as animals are raised, there is practically no inspection system in place, despite Eby's claims.
BC SPCA chief protection and outreach service manager Marcie Moriarty said her group is not mandated nor is it funded to inspect animal agriculture sites; and it does not have the broad expertise required to do so.
In 2021, as Soranno’s case made its way through the courts, the society announced a pilot inspection program for farm animal inspections, although Moriarty told Glacier Media last month the society only inspected 10 sites in the past two years. There are no public reports of those inspections.
Soranno says the province has nearly 6,000 commercial animal farms, each housing hundreds, thousands, or even millions of animals.
“The BC SPCA's limited inspection authority hinders their ability to effectively address and prevent animal abuse,” Soranno asserted.
“Even when presented with compelling evidence, such as the footage from Excelsior Hog Farm [in Abbotsford], the BC SPCA's prosecution efforts have fallen short. …It is imperative for both the BCSPCA and the Ministry of Agriculture to prioritize monitoring and enforcement to prevent unchecked animal abuse on farms,” added Soranno.
Moriarty said she agrees in principle on the idea of CCTV monitoring and supports an independent and proactive inspection agency, regardless of whether or not the BC SPCA is tasked to operate it.
Soranno said, “given the pressing need for transparency and monitoring in animal agriculture, the installation of CCTV cameras seems to be a reasonable request.
“By providing consumers with direct insight into the products they support, CCTV cameras would eliminate the necessity for activists to obtain potentially incriminating footage themselves. Furthermore, such video evidence could be admissible in legal proceedings, creating accountability for animal abuse,” said Soranno, who noted B.C. would likely be the first jurisdiction to implement CCTV for animal farms.
With no such inspection system, the public is left to sort through competing claims, she said.
Meat industry awaits recommendations
Glacier Media reached out to the meat industry for comment on Soranno’s recommendations.
The BC Pork Producers Association declined to comment, saying it awaits the recommendations of the committee.
BC Dairy only provided a statement by email: “Rigorous animal welfare standards such as those in place for dairy farmers across Canada are important. BC Dairy supports the province’s animal welfare framework review, and awaits the recommendations that come out of the process.”
Kevin Boon, manager for the BC Cattlemen’s Association, spoke to Glacier Media by phone, saying as far as cattle go, CCTV systems likely wouldn’t be effective on a ranch as they rarely take shelter.
Boon said the welfare of cows is paramount for ranchers and he thinks because animal abuse is so rare, the industry on the whole would not necessarily oppose an inspections regime.
“I don’t think there would be any pushback, for the most part, to see increased inspections. However, they want to make sure the people doing the inspections actually know what they are inspecting,” said Boon, noting the SPCA is not trained to do so
“They know how to look at dogs, cats and goldfish,” said Boon.
He noted there are audits of farms within the industry and expressed frustration at any perception there’s a systemic problem with animal abuse.
“In most cases, we have generations of expertise in raising these animals and we get into this because we love animals; we’re not there to abuse them. Like everything else there are some bad characters and they need to be weeded out,” said Boon.
With animal viruses spreading around the world now, biosecurity is important, added Boon, and activists such as Soranno pose a threat to animals, too.
Soranno was convicted of break-and-enter and mischief in July 2022 and later sentenced to 30 days in prison. Soranno said an appeal hearing is scheduled for Nov. 23 at the BC Court of Appeals in Vancouver.
During sentencing, Justice Frits Verhoeven called the protest a “carefully planned, organized and orchestrated mass invasion and occupation” and said the pair “incited and encouraged many other persons to break the law.”
Soranno and her associates (reportedly as many as 200) had filmed alleged abuse at the hog farm and sent it to the BC SPCA. However, the BC Prosecution Service did not pursue charges, claiming insufficient evidence, as the BC SPCA claimed it was unable to verify the video was taken at the farm.
The case has led to tensions between the BC SPCA and activists such as Soranno, as the latter claim the society has failed to prosecute animal abusers and in Soranno’s case allegedly handed over the identity of a whistleblower to local police.