October 20, 2004
Several weeks ago, a resident of Langley, BC, wrote to me about a duck fattening farm that made her community miserable. The stench of manure from up to 10,000 ducks nauseated neighbours, drove customers away from local businesses, and exposed children to ridicule at school. Neighbours blamed asthma attacks and other health problems on fumes from the farm. They also feared that the farm’s manure storage system threatened local water supplies. After four years of battling the farm, despite some victories along the way, many local residents remain concerned. They know they can’t count on the provincial government to protect their health and well being – indeed, it has bent over backwards to promote intensive farming. And so they have turned to the courts to continue their fight to keep factory farms out of their community.
I also recently heard from a resident of Abbotsford, BC, who relayed his own battles. His concerns revolve not around odours but around noises – in particular, the noises generated by propane cannons used to scare birds and other wildlife away from crops. Often called “bird bangers,” these devices fire deafening blasts several times a minute from dawn to dusk, severely disrupting neighbours’ lives. And yet, thanks to provincial legislation designed to protect farms, there is no law or authority that neighbours can turn to. In desperation, a group of concerned neighbours set up a web site to highlight the health impacts of excessive noise and offer information on quieter, safer methods of deterring wildlife.
Another recent e-mail came from a neighbour of a mushroom farm in Ashburn, Ontario. Since its establishment a decade ago, the farm has plagued the community with putrid odours. This is no traditional farm. Located on the site of a former auto-parts plant, it is an industrial operation that employs more than 200 workers. Its scale boggles the mind: It uses a cement slab measuring 620 feet by 92 feet and consumes up to 390,000 pounds of poultry litter, manure-sodden hay, and other materials a week. It is little wonder that such an operation produces odours far worse than those traditionally produced by local farmers.
In my many exchanges with people fighting agricultural pollution, I have been struck by the immense knowledge that citizens accumulate when they and their families are directly affected by farms. Those who cannot shut out the odours and noises, those who experience the air and water pollution first-hand, those whose health is suffering or whose property values are plunging become passionately committed to righting the injustices they experience. Through years of documenting pollution, of combing through scientific reports and meeting with specialists, and of researching alternatives, they develop great expertise – greater, even, than that of many regulators.
Yet, tragically, these members of the community, people who in earlier years could be counted on to keep agriculture sustainable, have been stripped of their power to act effectively. Governments have removed the citizenry’s traditional rights to a clean and safe environment in order to promote industrial farming. All provinces – through “right-to-farm” laws – prevent individuals from taking action against most factory farm practices. Now several provinces – through changes to their planning laws – are also disempowering communities that want to protect themselves and their environments. The new provincial laws say that local governments don’t know what’s best for the local community and that farms can trump decisions made by local governments.
Robbing citizens of their rights and constraining local democracy set dangerous precedents for the environment and for our society. We oppose these insults to our democratic traditions and work to overturn them through our public education efforts, our presentations to government bodies, and our books and other research documents. If you agree that polluting farms shouldn’t trump the rights of our citizens and our communities, please make a generous, tax-creditable donation to help us carry on with our work. Together, we can work for an equitable society that protects our fundamental rights to a clean and safe environment.