Gov’t heeds Opposition calls for Animal Welfare Bill to be sent before Special Select Committee
By Stacy Carmichael-James
The Opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C’s) call for the Animal Welfare Bill to be sent to a Parliamentary Special Select Committee was on Thursday heeded by the Government in the National Assembly following intense arguments against the Bill’s passage.
The Government advanced various arguments on the merits of the Animal Welfare Bill no.21 of 2016; tantamount is a multi-pronged approach to deal with all aspects of animal welfare to ensure food safety, security and availability.
However, the Parliamentary Opposition argued that the bill will directly affect livestock producers, noting that the penalties included in the bill are onerous and reeks of bureaucracy. The Opposition speakers reinforced the need for additional consultations to assure a comprehensive bill.
The bill, which was presented by Agriculture Minister Noel Holder during Thursday’s sitting deals with the welfare of animals, their protection and health and connected matters.
Minister Holder said the bill was drafted in 2011 to showcase Guyana’s readiness to export animal produce and has been an inspiration to other Caribbean countries which have crafted similar legislation.
Holder said this bill was intended to complement the Food Safety Bill and went through numerous consultation processes. He highlighted that legislation of this nature is a prerequisite for export to some European countries; hence he reiterated that the production of safe food is a shared responsibility of all involved.
Importantly too, the minister said animal welfare is critical for health, commercial and ethical reasons, pointing to the need for adequate veterinary care, transport and living conditions. He implored that animal welfare be viewed in an holistic way.
Food safety, animal health and human health, the Agriculture Minister said are connected. This is the “One Health” approach. It was pointed out that over time the vast application of antibiotics, in place of a structural improvement of production factors has resulted in the risks of spilling over from the field of animal health to affect human health. From the perspective of sustainability, solutions for human health concerns, a healthy environment for livestock, Holder noted must emphasize animal husbandry and management tools that will optimize animal health and minimize the need for antibiotics.
His arguments were supported by Minister within the Public Health Ministry Dr. Karen Cummings, who noted that the use of particular antibiotics is seen as contributing to antibiotic resistance in the health sector. She said there is a link between animal welfare and the health of people.
In addition, Minister Holder highlighted the need for pet shops and animal shelters to be regulated. He noted too that stray animals pose an enormous public health threat and with the passage of this bill all aspects of the welfare of animals are addressed.
Meantime Opposition Member of Parliament, Dharamkumar Seeraj deemed the bill a complex piece of legislation and many persons are ignorant of the consultations.
He recommended that the bill goes to a Parliamentary Select Committee to enable the participation of target groups in order to make it more realistic.
According to Seeraj, under the previous administration the Ministry of Agriculture had started some amount of engagement but the bill did not make it to the cabinet and the consultations were not completed, hence it was never brought to the House under that Government.
The Opposition MP is contending that little is said of the livestock producers and what is being done to protect the welfare of persons rearing the animals in preparation for consumption.
He described the conditions on the ground as primitive and called for more attention to be placed in the flood-prone communities.
As it relates to fines and other charges included in the bill, Seeraj deemed them draconian more so the fact that producers could be imprisoned. He called for more incentives for livestock producers.
The Opposition MP said there seems to be a rush to have the bill passed through the National Assembly but according to him Guyana is far from ready to export animal produce to the international market.