Animal Health Act to Improve Disease Control30 May 2012
CANADA - Don McRae, Minister of Agriculture for British Columbia clarifies provisions within the new Animal Health Act and allays concerns expressed by some, specifically around privacy issues and disclosure of disease outbreaks.
"To be clear, the rules on reporting news of a disease outbreak do not change with the new Animal Health Act. As soon as a disease is actually confirmed, that information would be made public just the same way it has always been, typically through the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), Fisheries and Oceans Canada or the Province’s chief veterinarian.
"What the new Animal Health Act guards against is incomplete or unconfirmed information being made public that would unfairly harm the reputation and livelihood of the families that make their living as farmers. We recognize that upon confirmation of a disease it is essential the public receives complete, accurate, and consistent information and advice on how they can protect their health.
"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.
"Section 16 of the new Animal Health Act is actually designed to encourage the reporting of potential animal diseases and participation in traceability programs, by guaranteeing the confidentiality of the information. It simply makes animal medical records held by the Province protected by the same confidentiality rules that apply to private veterinarians and private laboratories. The wording is very similar to that used by Alberta and Ontario.
"The new legislation places no specific restrictions on the media or individuals from reporting the presence of diseases to the public. It also does not change anyone’s responsibility to notify CFIA or the Province’s chief veterinarian if they have reason to believe that an animal in their care has a reportable disease.
"The Animal Health Act is a rewrite of a bill that was originally passed in 1948. The act was rewritten based on best practices and similar legislation in other provinces. The changes bring us up-to-date so that we have the tools to protect human and animal health while ensuring our producers can compete in the global marketplace, as animal health has become a major global trade issue.
"Under the act, as well as federal legislation, people with knowledge of a reportable disease are legally obligated to provide that information to provincial and/or federal authorities. Failure to do so is an offence.
"Maximum fines under the act have been increased to $75,000 because animal disease control is a serious matter, as an outbreak has potentially devastating consequences to human health as well as the health and welfare of animals. The penalties are designed to ensure people responsible for the health of animals take that responsibility seriously. This maximum fine applies upon conviction only to certain offences that are prosecuted through the courts.
"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.
"I assure you that the new act balances the need for protection of confidential information in the ministry’s possession with the public interest in receiving timely disease information."
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