The Government of Ontario has made a commitment to address the pressing challenges we face to protect our environment, build resiliency and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions to 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. Reaching these goals will require ambitious actions that account for the adverse environmental impacts of the animal agriculture sector.
Animal agriculture is a leading cause of climate change and is a major contributor of methane, the most potent of the three main greenhouse gases (“GHGs”). It is also a significant driver of nonpoint source pollution in our waters, land degradation, and biodiversity loss.
Our latest report, in collaboration with World Animal Protection, offers a first-of-its-kind legislative review of select Canadian and international laws dealing with these impacts. This includes an assessment of laws addressing issues such as nutrient pollution, land degradation, biodiversity loss, and climate change.
The report reveals that the majority of Canadian jurisdictions have insufficient environmental protection legislation to effectively address these impacts.
It is time to eliminate exceptions granted to the animal agriculture sector from existing laws and policies.
Despite being a significant source of pollution and a leading contributor of GHG emissions, most key environmental protection statutes in Ontario create exemptions for “normal farming practices” or do not apply to the animal agriculture sector altogether. For example: The general prohibition against contamination under Ontario's Environmental Protection Act does not generally apply to animal wastes disposed of in accordance with “normal farming practices”; and Ontario's Environmental Assessment Act does not typically apply to new or expanding animal agriculture projects.
By exempting animal agriculture from existing environmental laws and policies, the government is likely encouraging intensification of the sector and failing to address its substantial impact on air and water quality, and habitat and biodiversity loss. By removing these exemptions, we can better assess the environmental impacts of animal agriculture, motivate farmers to implement best management practices for the environment, and support a shift away from intensive animal use.
We need to restructure government subsidies for the agriculture sector.
Current evidence suggests that a shift towards increasingly plant-based food production is more sustainable and is needed to help Canada achieve its climate goals. In fact, a recent study published by the University of Bonn in Germany stated that developed countries will need to cut their meat consumption by at least 75% to make the necessary reductions in GHGs.
Since agricultural subsidies are an important factor influencing production and consumption choices, reducing and restructuring government subsidies for the agriculture sector would likely have a profoundly positive impact on the environment. For example, making funds conditional on farmers demonstrating that they have taken measures to reduce their ecological footprints, including nutrient run-off and GHG emissions, might encourage farmers to shift away from intensive animal use.
The government should impose a moratorium on the construction and expansion of ILOs.
Intensive livestock operations (“ILOs”) have a substantial environmental footprint because of their sheer size. In February 2022, California made a tremendous stride in introducing Bill AB-2764: “Animals: commercial animal feeding operations: prohibition on new operations”. If passed into law, this bill will effectively prohibit the expansion of any existing animal feeding operation or the construction of any new animal feeding operations that produce annual revenues of $100,000 or more. In order to address the significant impact these facilities have on the environment, the government should consider placing a similar moratorium on the construction and expansion of ILOs.
It is time for Canada to move towards a more sustainable and compassionate food system. Our findings serve as a call to action for policymakers and the public to prioritize the environment and animal welfare in the agricultural sector.
To read more about AEL Advocacy’s research and recommendations, read our full report: Animal Agriculture and Environmental Protection: A Multi-Jurisdictional Legislative Review.