The attack on Pictou County butcher Gordon Fraser is just one more nail in small agriculture’s coffin. Once again the government and its marketing boards strive to curtail small business and the ability of Nova Scotians to make an honest living. not to mention, our ability to safely feed ourselves.
Earlier this year I submitted a letter and a 2000 signature petition to the Honourable Keith Colwell asking for the regulations surrounding small farm enterprise to be revisited. Many of the rules that have been constructed around large / industrial scale farming and production systems just don’t make sense for producers who operate entirely hands-on. The response I received from the Minister ignored many of the points I made and simply stated, “The subject of over regulation and its impact on new and beginning farmers is of interest to me and one which is discussed with commodity marketing boards on a regular basis. However, it should be noted I am also responsible for ensuring that products brought to market are safe for consumption.”
Gordon Fraser’s business has not operated successfully for 36 years because his practices are unsafe. If Mr. Fraser’s operation resulted in even one contamination related illness, every single producer in Pictou County ( and much of the rest of Nova Scotia) would hear about it. The government inspectors would have been on his case long ago… if they were doing their job. Mr. Fraser is undoubtedly aware and conscious of this fact, it’s a truth that guides the practices of every person trying to make a living from food production, whether they’re a farmer, a processor, a restauranteur, or a retailer. Was the government simply unaware that Mr. Fraser’s business existed, or did they just not have a financially feasible motive for shutting him down before this? Lori Ansems of the Turkey Marketing Board claims the complaint came from a concerned citizen, but that certainly doesn’t mean this person had no connections to the industry. If the government is truly concerned about “health and safety”, it should be working with the small abattoirs to help them rectify any real problems, not shutting them down. I know from experience that the government inspected facilities are already booking months in advance… obviously they are busy to capacity. I wonder how the Minister proposes getting around this reality. The government should be enabling MORE small abbatoirs, not less. The stress of moving birds ( or any animal) hours away to be slaughtered just doesn’t jive with the ethics of many people who raise their own animals for consumption.
Of course it’s always possible that soon it will become illegal for anyone other than Big Ag to produce food at all. The minister’s statements certainly support that paranoid thought. All in spite of a report released in 2014 supported by the Canadian Institues for Food Health that showed food insecurity is increasing across this country, with Nova Scotia leading the provinces. a whopping 17.5% of families in this province reported some lack of access to sufficient and healthy food.
The government chooses to hide behind food safety as a be-all-and-end-all excuse for keeping uncomfortably tight reins on people who produce. The commodity boards function as regulatory extensions of the government, and operate in a constant conflict of interest. The people who sit on boards such as the Turkey Board and the Nova Scotia Egg Producers are the very producers who have everything to lose by allowing more people to share the market. These boards make the rules about who can grow and process food, who can buy quota and for how much, and what rules will determine exactly how an item is produced. These boards profit from the rules that they make. The marketing boards are not set up to promote diverse interests and alternative markets, they are set up to ensure nobody gets in the way of a few producers holding a monopoly. The simple truth is that it’s inconvenient and expensive for governments to regulate thousands of small scale operators and they’d be much better off from a financial standpoint if food production was left to a few big guys. It’s proven time and time again as small producers and people like Mr. Fraser are taken out at the knees for no good reason other than operating to standards that differ from those set out by a marketing board.
Consumers are not stupid. The recent revolution in buying and eating local, healthy food and the resurgence in farm markets, farmgate sales, and local shops shows that consumers in Nova Scotia understand the value in supporting small independent producers, economically, socially, and for their own health. Consumers will not buy from farmers who make them sick, and farmers won’t support a butcher who contaminates their product. The government and marketing boards are bound and determined to increase an industrial and faceless production system while consumers seem more determined than ever to put a face to the people who feed them. The interests being protected are clearly not those of the consumer.
I find it interesting that Minister Colwell’s response to my petition finishes with this. “Government is continually assessing existing regulations to ensure they meet the needs of the marketplace and the responsibilities we have to protect the health and safety of the public.” No mention of protecting the jobs created by small agriculture, protecting the people trying to eke out a living in a manner that respects the environment and the animals with which they work. No mention of protecting the right to food sovereignty. Yes, health and safety of the public is important, but so is the freedom to produce one’s own food, to have access to a variety of items that don’t truck in from Mexico, and to make a living by providing a service that is necessary. I’m willing to bet that Gordon Fraser has put far fewer people in hospital than XL Foods, Maple Leaf Foods or the cigarette companies, all which operate with approval from our governments. If Mr. Fraser is forced out of his butchering business I’d suggest he take up selling tobacco so the government can stop worrying about any threats he may pose to public health and safety.
Maybe the Turkey Board would relax if they had a smoke.