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.