Farmers slammed in environmental group’s fundraising letter

Stew Slater
Regional country news
May 24, 2002

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A Toronto-based envi­ronmental group has sent out fundraising letters to people who supported it and its partner organizations in the past, criticizing Ontario’s farmers for "threaten(ing) both human health and the environment," for "enjoy(ing) special sta­tus under the law," and for accepting economic subsidies which "discriminat(e) against responsible small-scale farms."
 
The Brunswick Avenue-based Environment Probe, founded in 1989 as a division of Energy Probe Research Foundation, is run by a board of directors that includes chair Gail Regan of the Cara air­line foods conglomer­ate, and members Max Allen of CBC Radio, Andrew Coyne of the National Post newspa­per and Ian Gray of the Ontario corn-reliant St. Lawrence Starch com­pany.
 
Staff member Elizabeth Brubaker, the group’s executive director, told Regional Country News the money raised through the fundraising cam­paign will be used to further environment Probe’s research into agricultural issues. She estimates the campaign could net anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000.
 
In the past, Brubaker explained, Environment Probe has concentrated largely on water quali­ty-related issues as they pertain to such industries as mining, forestry and commer­cial fishing. However, the group has become increasingly interested in agriculture-related water quality issues, and took the opportuni­ty of an invitation to provide information to the recent inquiry into the Walkerton E. coli tragedy to further its research in that area.
 
"After bacteria from cow manure entered the Walkerton water system and killed seven people, the Ontario government, agricul­tural organizations, community groups, and even some environmental groups leapt to the defence of the farm responsible for the con­tamination," reads the fundraising letter, characterizing what the organization saw as the response to its submis­sion at the Walkerton Inquiry.
 
The letter suggests farmers have used the authority of the Normal Farm Practices Protection Board, an arms-length provincial government agency which can allow farm­ers to contravene cer­tain regulations designed more for use in urban areas, to "conclud(e) that, since the polluting practices were normal, they must have been acceptable."
 
Brubaker is well-versed in the issue, having written a book in the 1990s entitled "Property Rights in Defense of Nature." In part of the book, she examines ways in which governments have prevented private citizens from using the British-based Common Law to prevent envi­ronmental degradation.
 
She calls Ontario‘s Normal Farm Practices Protection legislation "an interesting example of how some farmers use the Right to Farm Act for their own bene­fit at the expense of other people."
 
The Environment Probe executive direc­tor suggests Right-to-Farm provisions should be scrapped, in favour of a regime developed over centuries of British Common Law cases, which she refers to as "character of the neighbourhood" argu­ments.
 
Brubaker is on shaki­er footing, however, when she seeks to justi­fy the comments in the fundraising letter which criticize farmers’ acceptance of what are referred to as "gener­ous" financial subsi­dies.
 
"No farm should have the right to pollute, and no farm’s polluting practices should be subsidized," the letter argues.
 
Brubaker said that if agricultural subsidies were to be reduced, farmers who are endangering the envi­ronment "will find it less economic to farm." She suggested subsidies are used to purchase equipment and chemicals which aren’t nec­essary and can damage the environment.
 
Asked how Ontario farmers should be expected to cope when their prices are driven downward by massive subsidies for growers of the very same products south of the border, she responded, "the (farm­ers) that are growing products that there’s no market for, they should be phased out.
 
"A lot of Canadian farming is uneconomic, and that’s the sad truth," she added.
 
Though the group’s fundraising letter sug­gests the implementa­tion of conservation practices like manure composting, buffer strips and constructed wetlands, as well as non water-related solu­tions like changing ani­mals’ diets and odour-filtration systems, Brubaker says none of the money raised dur­ing the current cam­paign will go towards making these solutions reality.
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