BRITISH COLUMBIA: B.C.’s Animal Health Act makes sickness a secret
Posted: May 28th, 2012 - 10:30am
Source: Globe and Mail
In a world of contagions, of mad-cow disease and bird flu, where the next pandemic seems just a viral mutation away, news that a farm has been quarantined because of a disease outbreak is unnerving.
But is that any reason to suppress information?
Elizabeth Denham, the Information and Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia, doesn’t think so, and neither do a lot of others, including the fish-farming industry.
When disease was detected on two B.C. fish farms last week, the companies put out press releases naming the facilities and describing the measures taken in response to positive tests for infectious hematopoietic necrosis, a disease that can kill Atlantic salmon, but which poses no human health concerns.
That proactive approach reassured the public, and showed that the fish farms had nothing to hide.
But under a new Animal Health Act that the provincial government has introduced, such openness would not only be discouraged, it would in some cases become illegal, an offence punishable by fines of up to $75,000 and two years in prison.
Section 3 of the controversial act states that “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.”
The act also forbids “a person” from identifying any individual “responsible for an animal or an animal product or byproduct.”
So you can’t say what, you can’t say where and you can’t say who is responsible.
Ms. Denham has objected, stating in a letter to Agriculture Minister Don McRae: “The Bill would override the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) and remove the public’s right to access various records regarding animal testing, including actions and reports relating to animal disease management.”
She said the act fails to strike a balance “between the public’s right to know, and individual and commercial interests of confidentiality,” and she asked that the offending sections be removed.