Farmer outrage is common after a group of animal rights activists held a protest Sept. 2 at a Fort Macleod, Alta., turkey operation.
Many are demanding stricter laws to protect farms and farmers from similar invasive actions and insisting that charges be laid against activists who invade private property.
About 90 people entered the Jumbo Valley Colony turkey operation in the early morning. About 30 sat inside a barn filled with live turkeys and another 60 held signs along nearby Highway 2 asking for animal liberation and an end to species-ism.
“It’s very disheartening that people think that they can enter and trespass on private farms,” said Turkey Farmers of Canada chair Darren Ference.
“They broke the law. They put birds at risk for biosecurity, (put) stress on the farmer and it’s not right.
“People are doing this, sitting in and putting animals at risk due to their ideologies and their beliefs. They didn’t target that farm specifically for an animal care concern. They were there because they’re protesting against livestock being used for human purposes.”
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Alberta Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen weighed in on Twitter after hearing about the incident.
“This attack on a turkey farm is unacceptable. Hardworking farmers and ranchers shouldn’t have to deal with harassment from illegal protesters. They shouldn’t have to worry about people entering their work, interfering with their lives or threatening the health of their animals,” the minister said in a Sept. 2 Twitter post.
He later posted that he had discussed with Alberta Solicitor General Doug Schweitzer the potential for strengthening laws “to protect farms and resource sectors from radical activists.”
There have been several incidents within Canada in the past six months involving animal activists occupying farms. About 200 protesters occupied a pig farm near Abbotsford, B.C., in April, 50 inside a barn and the rest holding signs outside. Also in April, a group forced their way into a Waterloo, Ont., area dairy farm and took a dead calf. Both events were live-streamed and followed by numerous social media postings of the farm and the animals’ conditions.
“It feels like there’s a bit of a powder keg situation right now and it really, really worries me and a lot of others too,” said B.C. dairy farmer Julaine Treur. Creekside Dairy, which she operates with her husband, Johannes, is not far from the April-targeted hog operation.
“I think it’s also really important to note that there’s a lot of us that are very fed up with this. And I and a lot of others are worried that someone’s going to snap at some point” and take drastic measures against protesters.
Treur has been a target of animal activists via her social media posts about dairy farm operations and is attuned to other farmers’ experiences.
“I find it horrifying,” she said about the recent turkey farm sit-in. “I don’t know too much about Hutterites but I do know that they’re peaceful and they avoid confrontation at all costs. I find it very despicable that these groups would target a peace-loving group like that.”
She’s so concerned that she has posted sample form letters, one version for consumers and another version for farmers, which she suggests should be sent to politicians.
“I know that these activists are not campaigning to improve conditions or standards on farms but that they want to bring about the end of all animal agriculture,” reads the consumer version.
“These activists have illegally trespassed on farms and regularly threaten and bully (online, via phone calls and emails, and in person) the good people who produce food for us and our fellow citizens. I am especially concerned for our farmers’ mental well-being; being subject to this sustained and horrific harassment is very detrimental to their mental health. I am appalled at the lack of repercussions for these actions.”
The farmer version has a similar plea, with mention of harassment, vandalism and illegal farm entry done in the name of animal rights.
Treur is an advocate of stricter laws to punish animal activists that invade farms or harass farmers.
“Australia is heading in the right direction. I believe they have legislation tabled with a $20,000 fine and possible three-year jail sentence for anyone who trespasses on a dairy farm to protest or for activism. And I think we would do well to use those sorts of sentences as a deterrent here as well.”
In her own social media post, Treur said she watched the livestream of the turkey farm event and did not see signs of animal abuse or neglect.
Ference shared that assessment after seeing media coverage of the same event.
“Those birds were in great condition. They were clean. They were dry. The bedding looks good. You can tell they were happy. And turkeys are always a curious animal, and you could see they were paying attention to all of the people sitting inside of their barn. That causes the whole barn to come and causes some crowding issues because they all want to see what’s going on.”
Ference said Turkey Farmers of Canada has an on-farm food safety program that includes animal welfare requirements and all turkey farmers are required to comply. Failure to do so can result in licence suspension or cancellation, confirmed Alberta Turkey Farmers executive director Cara Prout.
“We have not had issues with this farm” in terms of regulatory compliance, she said.
“We don’t believe that the farm was targeted because of any specific animal care concerns. It’s our belief that it was just solely targeted based on their not agreeing with … raising livestock for consumption. That’s fine. It’s an individual decision and we respect that but we don’t agree with individuals that break the law,” Prout said.
Turkey farmers are also required to comply with the codes of practice for the care and handling of turkeys, which covers such things as feed, water, bird health, stocking density and euthanasia.
Turkey farms are audited “on a regular schedule” and additional audits can be triggered if circumstances warrant.
Ference said the turkey farm protest was akin to having people break into a private home, given that most families live on the farm, and the barns are part of day-to-day life.
The breach in personal security affects farmers’ mental health, a subject that has gained much attention in the past several years.
Annemarie Pedersen, executive director of the Alberta Farm Animal Care Council, said the council is planning a mental health workshop in November specifically for livestock producers.
AFAC deals with livestock welfare issues and concerns. There weren’t any in the recent turkey farm incident but Pedersen said it is evidence of a troubling trend.
“Unfortunately rural areas are feeling the pinch of crime as well. It’s not just these animal rights people, but people just coming onto farms stealing equipment, stealing vehicles.
“Those are on the rise too, and so I think it used to feel very safe to be on a farm in the country and I feel badly for farmers now who feel that that’s not maybe the case anymore, that they always have to be vigilant.”