Farming regulations, climate change

Posted 10.13.11

SHAWVILLE, QUEBEC | Reading a regional farm newspaper a few weeks ago, I was struck by two things: complaints by farmers everywhere about increasing regulations, plus a strong current of climate-change denial. These themes are connected.

In our densely populated world the only alternative to government regulation is self-regulation. The rant that "the only good government is no government" leads nowhere. Public concern about health, chemicals, and environmental degradation is too powerful -- and too justified -- to allow government to draw in its regulatory horns. That is, unless farmers and the farm industry can convince the population that the industry is capable of regulating itself. The farm industry should be building public confidence that this industry can monitor itself.

This is where the climate-change deniers do their damage.

Sure, it is possible to cast doubt on the findings of scientists -- on absolutely every topic, not just climate change. Last week, for example, researchers claimed to have identified atomic particles which travel faster than the speed of light, an impossibility. No scientific conclusion is ever absolutely water-tight, and the deniers play with these normal ambiguities to push their political, anti-government agenda; they make farmers look like old fashioned "know-nothings," and that does not build public confidence in the farming community's ability to regulate itself.

Supporting the deniers is a lose-lose agenda. Farmers will certainly lose any capacity to police themselves, and they will be forced to adhere to costly rules (designed by non-farmers) to protect us from the extremes of climate change, among other threats.

An alternative would be for the agricultural industry to be proactive and realistic. They cannot fight the beliefs of the very people they hope to convince to buy their products. However, an industry-wide Climate Change Study Council (notice the word "study"), to which all players, from individual farmers to the gigantic agri-business corporations, sign on and support would the best way to tell the public that agriculture is realistic enough to self-manage its industry and place within Canada's economy.

If on a national level farmers set the Canadian standards and assume leadership in this world-wide concern for climate change, this will echo across the world's globalized economy. Right now we increasingly hear calls to end supply management and production insurance plans because they are "too expensive" (in short-term financial terms). But, for example, if American dairy producers found themselves forced to meet higher Canadian environmental standards in order to ship their product into Canada, there would be less price advantage and thus fewer calls to end supply management in favour of foreign imports. But as long as Canadian farmers play the role of goats in the climate-change debate, pulling everywhere but in the direction the public is going, then they are handing their foreign competitors the ability to produce and ship cheaper food. This gives the anti-supply management loud-mouths all the ammunition they need (eg, Andrew Coyne in a recent Macleans).

Quebec's provincial farm union, the UPA, has taken a more realistic view of climate change than the corporate-supported groups and publicists elsewhere in Canada who deny climate-change. As questionable as some UPA processes and decisions may be, the UPA can protect Quebec producers from rightwing extremes elsewhere in the country. However, we are but one part of our county and federal trade policies can still harm our producers no matter our provincial policies. We need to rouse all our rural neighbours.

Likely Noah's neighbours tried to convince him the rains were just a normal part of Earth's cycles. They, too, were sure they could save money thinking that way.

Copyright © 2011 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/10.11