Monitoring and compliance
Officials from Environment and Climate Change Canada say an early warning system for the kind of “atmospheric rivers” that hit B.C. over the past three weeks could be years away.
Meanwhile, farmers and animal welfare advocates still need to prepare for the next disaster, which could strike at any moment.
Labchuk, the executive director of Animal Justice, said farms should be smaller.
An average chicken farm in B.C. has about 50,000 birds. Pig farms have about 5,000 hogs. And dairy farms can have several hundred cows.
“There’s no realistic way to evacuate tens of thousands of chickens from a flooded barn,” Labchuk said. “Farm sizes should be limited to the number of animals that can be evacuated, and emergency rescue plans should be a legal requirement.”
Labchuk also said there are problems with how the NFACC codes are incorporated into law.
Farmers in B.C. have no such legal requirement. The codes are referenced in provincial regulations, but it’s not legally mandatory to follow them.
B.C. floods: Abbotsford evacuees return to major damage, face long road to recovery
The province’s agriculture ministry says on its website that including the codes in law “protects farmers and ranchers” from allegations of wrongdoing when reasonable and generally accepted farming practices are “misperceived or challenged.” This could include branding cattle, which causes “acute pain” to the animals, keeping egg-laying hens locked inside small cages, or depriving animals of outdoor exercise.
B.C.’s Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act also says farmers “must not be found guilty of an offence” if their actions are carried out “in accordance with the prescribed standards of care” for the kind of farming they engage in.
That means farmers whose cows, pigs or chickens died of drowning or hypothermia during recent flooding will likely never face charges — even if their emergency plans were insufficient or nonexistent. Farmers might also avoid conviction if their animals die of heat exposure — even if they don’t have the most up-to-date cooling systems.
B.C. Agriculture Minister Lana Popham declined multiple requests to be interviewed for this story.
“There are no legal requirements for evacuation plans for farm animals,” said B.C. SPCA farm animal welfare manager Melissa Speirs.
Speirs said the challenges of evacuating farm animals during a disaster are immense. This includes finding trucks suitable for transporting live animals, having large supplies of food and water, plus dealing with the immediate risks posed by the disaster itself.
In the case of flooding or wildfires, there are also risks to human life that need to be considered. Sometimes disasters move fast, such as the wildfires in Lytton, B.C., or the mudslides caused by the recent floods. In these situations, human well-being must be the top priority.
But that doesn’t mean farmers shouldn’t be prepared, Speirs said, nor does it mean the government should take a back seat when it comes to prevention.
“All of our farmers indicate that the codes of practice are very important and that they are following them,” she said. “We’re just looking for additional assurances that that’s the case.”
This view isn’t shared by everyone who takes care of animals.
McCrea, the veterinarian from Sumas Prairie, said she believes the best oversight for farm animals comes from within the industry itself.
Whether it’s farmer-led or veterinarian-led, she said the expertise and knowledge needed to care for farm animals only comes with experience.
This was evident the morning after the floods first hit, McCrea said, when she and her colleagues returned to the barn to wrangle the cows to safety.
“We didn’t experience any losses,” she said. “We’re working together and just trying to keep up, keep everybody on top of things … and trying to do more of a proactive approach to helping the animals through this.”