Don’t cancel Urban Hens TO!
*CAMPAIGN UPDATE* – May 16, 2023
In their meeting on May 10, City Council decided to end the UrbanHensTO pilot. People who already have hens are allowed to keep them until the end of the hens’ lives but not acquire new ones.
Council will revisit the issue in 2025 to re-evaluate the cost of administering the program and the effects of Avian flu by that time.
While we weren’t successful this time, we’re grateful to have sent 167 emails to city councillors. Thank you for your support.
Stay tuned to our socials for more advocacy around UrbanHensTO next year — follow us @FoodShareTO on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
Join us in calling on City Council to defer their decision on the UrbanHensTO Pilot Program! (More info below)
What is UrbanHensTO?
The UrbanHensTO pilot program was originally launched on March 2, 2018 and has been extended to May 31, 2023. The pilot allows residents to have up to four hens in specific areas of the city of Toronto. Hens must be acquired for the purposes of enjoyment and egg production, not as livestock to eat (i.e., any eggs produced must be for personal consumption only). So far, the program has registered more than 300 hens in 100 households.
Some key conditions of the program are as follows:
- The pilot is only open to registered households in wards 4, 9, 10, 11 and 19, and select areas of wards 2, 3, 8, 12 and 14.
- All pilot program participants must register before purchasing hens. Registration is only open to those with backyard space, not to residents of apartment buildings or condos.
- For the pilot program, no registration fees were collected. However, the proposed registration fee for a permanent program would be $230.00 with an annual fee of $129.00. Pilot program participants have also noted that upfront costs of building and/or buying an appropriately sized coop and run range from $1,000 to $3,000.
- Hens must be at least fourth months old when acquired.
- Participants should ensure access to a veterinarian who is knowledgeable about hens in case of illness.
Why is this a right to food issue?
Food sovereignty recognizes food as a right rather than a commodity – it is our right to define and control our own food systems. Urban agricultural practices allow us – particularly Black, Indigenous and other racialized folks – to reclaim relationships to the land and methods of food production. Like other urban agricultural practices, urban hens offer a measure of control over the source of one’s own food.
Hens are also a source of fresh, nutritious eggs. A 2007 comparison of USDA nutrient data for commercial eggs and nutritional content of eggs from foraging hens found that eggs from foraging hens have 33% less cholesterol, 25% less saturated fat, 66% more Vitamin A, 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids, 3 times more Vitamin E, and 7 times more beta-carotene.
According to the United Nations Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Toronto Food Charter, our governments have legally committed to respecting, protecting and realizing our right to food. The UrbanHensTO pilot program certainly requires revision in order to meaningfully contribute to food security in the city; however, there is an urgent need for Council to support such programs which decommodify our food system and restore relationships to food and land.
What is the status of the pilot program?
The initial pilot, launched in March 2018, was to be carried out for up to 3 years. Since then, City Council has made the decision to extend the program based on several staff reports and recommendations. Most recently, council voted in February 2023 to extend the program until May 31.
Over the course of the pilot program, city staff were directed to consult with relevant City divisions, community organizations and the public. FoodShare, Toronto Urban Growers and other organizations have repeatedly urged the City to adopt a food justice-based approach in order for the pilot program to meaningfully improve the state of food insecurity in our city. Some of the recommendations include:
- Extending the program to ALL 25 wards in Toronto.
- Extending the program to community growing spaces, including urban farms, community gardens, and other communal food growing and gardening initiatives.
- Removing registration fees for participation, especially for participants who are Black, Indigenous, racialized, living with a disability, and those living on a low income.
- Exploring supports for participation such as training and low-barrier grants that are available to Black, Indigenous and other racialized folks, people with disabilities, and those living on a low income.
Despite ongoing advocacy to extend and expand the UrbanHensTO program, in the most recent follow-up report, City staff have recommended shutting the program down on May 31, 2023.
Why is the UrbanHensTO program being cancelled?
According to the City’s report, the estimated annual cost of an expanded Urban Hens program would be $493,670 towards City staff needed to implement and maintain the program. As a result, the proposed registration fee for participants would be $230.00 with an annual fee of $129.00. In addition, in cases where further site inspections are needed, the inspection fee would be $151.00.
Additionally, there is a rising concern of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) which spreads among wild and farmed birds throughout Canada and the USA. Canada has seen previous outbreaks of Avian influenza since 2004, however the current outbreak was detected in February 2022.
On top of existing program costs, due to the concern of HPAI, significant additional resources would be required to safely administer a City-wide program. The report claims that there is no room in the Municipal Licensing and Standards budget to subsidize the UrbanHensTO pilot program any further.
What are we asking?
We are asking that City Council defer their decision on the UrbanHensTO program for 1-2 years so that the impacts of HPAI can be further studied, allowing a more informed decision on resourcing the UrbanHensTo program.
ADD YOUR VOICE: Use our form to easily contact City representatives and tell them to defer the decision on UrbanHensTO!