Editorial: Scenes from the farm trenches

Tom Fletcher talks about what is happening in agriculture

B.C. Views by Tom Fletcher

 

With ongoing pipeline and oil tanker skirmishes, and a hot summer for mining and logging still to come, the green war in B.C. shows no signs of slowing down.

Things are already hot in the Fraser Valley, where the federal government’s change to the definition of fish habitat has opened a new front on the farms.

Farmers briefly got into the public discussion by hauling a couple of cute calves into downtown Vancouver and staging a television-friendly demo in front of the federal fisheries office. They have been saying for decades that imposing salmon stream regulations on drainage ditches around their fields is impractical.

Fraser Valley Conservative MPs Randy Kamp and Mark Strahl even had the nerve to meet with local mayors to hear their concerns about B.C.’s most productive farmland, without inviting self-appointed “activists.”

Arrayed against them is an environmental lobby whose deep green wing was defined by Marvin Rosenau, a former provincial biologist who now teaches “fish, wildlife and recreation technology” at BCIT.

“Mark Strahl is leading the charge of eco-fascists intent on making the last dime off the backs of the last remnants of an absolutely spectacular ecosystem,” Rosenau told the Chilliwack Progress. “A massive and productive floodplain of fish and aquatic values… has been drained, ditched, tiled and laser-leveled for agricultural profit.”

The same could be said for the broad fields of Richmond and Pitt Polder farms north of the Fraser, a wetland diked and drained by Dutch settlers after World War II. Farms are “industrializing the landscape,” said Rosenau, who stopped short of calling for them all to be shut down.

At the provincial level we have a new Animal Health Act, which threatens heavy fines or even jail time for prematurely leaking reports of serious animal disease outbreaks. This was also portrayed as a jack-booted sellout of the public’s right to know, putting the business interests of land and ocean farms ahead of public safety.

Here’s what’s really happening. As is generally the case with meat inspection and livestock issues, the federal government is imposing rules on provinces in the wake of avian flu and “mad cow” outbreaks. Canadian beef was banned in 30 countries after a single infected cow was identified in Alberta in 2003.

B.C. Agriculture Minister Don McRae assures me this legislation will not result in reporters or environmental activists being thrown in jail for telling the public about sick animals. They and the farmers themselves can say all they want, once infections are confirmed and quarantines established.

McRae and Paul Kitching, B.C.’s chief veterinarian, pleaded for the public to understand that any farm reporting system must rely on voluntary compliance by farmers.

When the B.C. government took the advice of B.C. Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham and began releasing fish farm inspection data in 2010, the operators stopped providing samples voluntarily. The fish farmers’ position was that you can have a co-operative system of farm inspections or one that’s imposed, but not both.

Imposing inspections on land farms across B.C.’s vast area is even less practical. Former Alberta premier Ralph Klein famously observed that the next rancher to find a possible mad cow should have “shot, shoveled and shut up” rather than file a report and devastate the industry.

Denham, the NDP and others appear to operate under an assumption that there should be sufficient government resources to sample and inspect every farm across B.C. for reportable contagious illnesses. This is similar to the fashionable notion that we should have enough park rangers to guard every cedar tree.

 

Tom Fletcher is legislative reporter and columnist for Black Press and BCLocalnews.com

tfletcher@blackpress.ca