A right to harm: How right-to-farm laws violate rural residents’ property rights and promote unsustainable farming practices

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A presentation to Property Rights, Economics, and Environment: Land Resources, an international conference organised by the Centre d’Analyse Economique Environnement and the International Centre for Research on Environmental Issues. The conference took place in Aix-en-Provence, France, on June 26-28, 2006.

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Back off, farmers

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Traffic chaos again disrupted Toronto yesterday as convoys of tractors – in the second such demonstration in as many weeks – converged on Queen’s Park to demand more privileges for farmers. Last week, 8,000 farmers organized by the Ontario Federation of Agriculture lined up at the legislative trough for cash. Yesterday’s protesters, led by the Lanark Landowners’ Association, demanded a different kind of subsidy: freedom from accountability.

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Invasive agriculture

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Last month, 150 residents of Ashburn, Ont., filed a civil lawsuit against Greenwood Mushroom Farms, claiming the stench from the farm has created a nuisance. Thanks to a provincial law designed to promote agriculture, the judge hearing the case will have to consider not whether GMF’s operations are harmful but whether they are "normal" – a standard that defies economics and undermines the property rights of all rural residents.

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Empowering individuals and communities to curb pollution from farms

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Should hog farmers be allowed to create odours so foul that they make neighbours physically ill? Should cattle farmers who follow manure-management rules be exempt from local bylaws limiting their size and density? Should vegetable farmers be allowed to send clouds of black dust across neighbouring lands, or awaken neighbours throughout the night with cannon explosions designed to scare away wildlife? How much pollution is "necessary" or "acceptable," and who should decide?

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As property rights slide, odours rise

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Last Friday, in a national "day of action" against factory farming, rural Canadians denounced the giant feedlots, mega hog barns and concentrated poultry operations that increasingly threaten their health and well-being. While demonstrators in Saskatchewan and Ontario called for provincial moratoriums on the hog industry’s expansion, activists in Alberta and Manitoba cut to the heart of the matter, insisting on local control over the siting of livestock operations. Their demands point to an often-overlooked fact: In robbing Canadians of their property rights, heavy-handed provincial legislators have brought us factory farms.

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Toronto group’s affiliates again criticize farm subsidies

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"Subsidizing farmers has backfired in Canada," says Lawrence Solomon, one of the authors of a report released last week by the Urban Renaissance institute, which is a division of Toronto environmental group Energy Probe. Energy Probe is also affiliated with Environment Probe, an organization which recently sent out a fundraising letter slam­ming Ontario’s farmers for polluting the environ­ment, living off the avails of subsidies, and hiding behind exemptions in environmental protection laws.

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Farmers slammed in environmental group’s fundraising letter

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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."

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Restoring the family farm to economic and environmental sustainability

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"Treat farming like any other industry and clean it up, inquiry urged." So read the headline of a Toronto Star article about one of our presentations to the Walkerton Inquiry. Our approach was considered newsworthy, but it shouldn’t have been. After all, isn’t it just common sense that we need to start cracking down on pollution from farms?

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Treat farming like any industry and clean it up

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When it comes to polluting, farmers shouldn’t be treated any differently from industry, the Walkerton inquiry heard yesterday. Among the experts at the public hearing in Toronto was Elizabeth Brubaker of the Energy Probe Research Foundation. Farmers treated like industrialists, she said, would have to bear the cost of preventing pollution on their land. When it comes to polluting, farmers shouldn’t be treated any differently from industry, the Walkerton inquiry heard yesterday.

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Straight Flush

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"What farmers facing environmental restrictions have suspected about provincial urban sewages systems is true: they are massive environmental polluters of sewage and other compounds. Because it would cost so much to upgrade facilities in cities and towns, the situation often gets a blind eye."

It took just a few minutes. A manure irrigation gun, left unattended, pumping at full throttle. A faulty connection. Before anyone knew what had happened, several thousand litres of liquid hog manure were flowing down the slope towards the small trout creek.

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