Factory farms erode democratic rights

Elizabeth Brubaker

In a new report examining the impacts of factory farming, the World Society for the Protection of Animals explains that right-to-farm laws have curtailed the rights of rural residents to be free of agricultural pollution. The authors bolster their arguments with quotes from Greener Pastures: Decentralizing the Regulation of Agricultural Pollution.

What’s On Your Plate? The Hidden Costs of Animal Agriculture in Canada examines the impacts of intensive livestock operations (ILOs) on the environment, human health, animal welfare, and rural communities. It finds that “cheap” food often comes at a high price: Subsidies to agriculture strain taxpayers, pathogens contaminate food and water, and the routine use of antibiotics creates drug-resistant superbugs.

In the report’s section on the quality of life in rural communities, Dr. Jennifer Sumner and Dr. John Ikerd elaborate on some of the social costs of intensive agriculture. They explain that regulatory changes made to accommodate ILOs have denied democratic rights:

Rural residents who are concerned about ILOs “find that they have no protection and almost no rights,” according to the Canadian Environmental Law Association (2000, p. 5). Tait (2002) argues that ILOs erode democracy in general. ILO owners have responded to the growth of county-level regulation by attempting to remove any ability to regulate air and water pollution from the counties, thus relocating authority in provincial governments where ILOs can more easily exert their political influence (Weida, 2002). By utilizing “‘right-to-farm’ legislation, all provinces, regardless of the party in power, have curtailed rural residents’ common-law rights to be free of agricultural pollution” (Brubaker, 2007, p. 10). In 2001, the Alberta government amended the Agricultural Operation Practices Act (AOPA), “citing the livestock industry’s economic importance” (Brubaker, 2007, p. 78). Similar to other right-to-farm legislation, amending this act “attempted to move disputes between farmers and their neighbours from the common law to provincially appointed regulators – the Natural Resources Conservation board (NRCB), the Farmers’ Advocate, and an Agricultural Practices Review Committee largely comprised of industry peers” (Brubaker, 2007, p. 78). This move shifted decision making power from the municipal and county levels to the NRCB, and is only one example of the way ILOs have influenced citizens’ abilities to provide input and shape decisions about ILOs in their communities.

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