You may recall a package I sent you earlier this year. It contained a letter outlining some examples of problems with the current agricultural regulatory system, as well as a petition with over 2000 signatures, asking that your government revisit the regulations to make adjustments that would accommodate small farming pursuits in Nova Scotia.
Your response to me claimed that you share a real interest in the subject of over regulation. You also indicated that the regulations are designed to ensure that products marketed in this province “have the confidence of local consumers”.
Mr. Colwell, I received your letter in February and I’ve patiently waited to see how your interest in “The subject of over regulation and its impact on new and beginning farmers” would manifest change. Events in recent weeks certainly indicate that your interest lies more in shutting down small farms and related businesses, and not in making local food production more accessible.
Make no mistake, local consumers have spoken. They have indicated their confidence in producers like Aaron Hiltz and processors like Gordon Fraser. They are, quite frankly, losing confidence in a government and the commodity boards that unrelentingly attack entrepreneurs. Of course consumers want safe food, but tell me this: how many cases of food-related illness can be traced back to a turkey that Gordon Fraser slaughtered? I’m sure you probably know how many can be traced back to XL Foods and Maple Leaf Foods, both government inspected facilities.
If your interests are, as you claim, “to balance the need to reduce the barriers of entry into some commodities for new entrants while at the same time ensure our food supply is safe”, I would like to offer the following suggestions:
A) Revamp the commodity boards to ensure representation from small (non-industrial and non-commercial) farmers, as well as consumer bodies.
B) Instead of allowing the commodity boards to hunt down and prosecute farmers and processors who do not comply with existing regulations, take a constructive approach and examine their true risk to the public and the impact that removing them from the food supply system will have, especially in cases where they have been operating safely or without causing harm for a number of years. In cases where real issues must be addressed, work with these individuals to try and rectify the problems instead of slapping them with ultimatums and fines.
C) As per the request of my initial letter, strike a committee or an interest group to take a good hard look at the current regulations as they exist with an open and informed mind, and adjust them wherever reasonable to promote small agricultural activity and grow this province’s ability to feed itself.
Minister Colwell, the obvious face of farming in Nova Scotia may be the commodity boards and the large organizations, but you know, as do I, that interest in food production is growing like wildfire. There are undetermined numbers of hobby farmers, small producers, and alternative, niche farmers in this province who are very uncomfortable at being told that eventually they may not even be allowed to kill a chicken for their own use. We do not elect governments to babysit us, we elect governments to protect our freedoms and rights, as well as our quality of life.
I hope that you will act in the real interest of growing a local food system, where consumers can know their farmers and butchers and where neighbours are allowed to provide for each other. Food safety is much easier to achieve in a production system where each animal ends up in an individual package, not ground up with 100 others. Food safety is much easier to achieve on farms where producers have daily contact with each and every animal in their care. Food safety is much easier to achieve where a person’s livelihood hinges on reputation, and not whether or not they can afford a million dollar fine to get back in the game after mistakes are made. Why do our regulations not reflect these realities?
Thank you for your attention to this very important matter.
Susan D. Earle