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Fickle politics could hit farmers hard

Mona Mattei, Editor

Politics has always made for strange bedfellows they say, but the way that the government decisions can shift in short periods of time truly does wreck havoc on citizens and businesses alike. We'd all like to have influence on decisions made at the higher levels and many advocates for different causes invest a great deal of time and money into impacting those decisions, but at what point does it cause more harm than good to reverse a decision? I'm talking about the bill introduced at the end of November by the New Democrats (NDP) to alter the regulations imposed in 2007 on meat producers in B.C.

In 2006 and 2007 individual farmers and groups rallied to prevent the institution of the new meat regulations. The province said that they had to implement food safety changes to protect the public, and to comply with the Canadian regulatory requirements that came about as a backlash to the mad cow fiasco. At the time I remember our local farmers trying valiantly to engage our local political representatives to stop the new regulations from being implemented. While some of our politicians did what they could, the pleas of the small farmers in communities across B.C. fell on deaf ears.

So, since then, small businesses who had been providing slaughter services have gone out of business or spent thousands to upgrade their facilities to comply with the regulations. Where the independent businesses have chosen not to upgrade, others have stepped up to finance some way of supporting meat producers in their region. And many small farmers have followed suite - either bowing out of production entirely or reducing their herds as their local markets have become unattainable. In Grand Forks the local agriculture society has spent time and money developing a mobile abattoir to help keep the meat producers in the industry. Overall, the new regulations have had a devastating affect on the agriculture industry and left them scrambling to survive.

So why does this bill, hopefully reversing that decision, not make sense? it's as they say, too little too late. First, it doesn't stand a chance to pass so perhaps it is only an attempt by the NDP to say 'hey, we tried.' If the Liberal majority passes this bill, they could be facing law suits. While they did that in the uranium mining business where they have essentially prevented active claims from moving forward, they are less likely to want to face the multiple law suits from abattoirs.

But second, if the bill passes it will only send the industry into turmoil again. The new businesses will be faced with reduced markets and their investments could turn sour. So instead of broke farmers, we'll see bankrupt abattoir owners. Plus the government itself has been giving significant financial supports for the creation of these new regulated slaughter houses and they would have wasted millions of dollars. That won't look so great come re-election.

Yes, under the proposed regs farmers could sell from their farm, but they still could not take the meat to farmers markets, sell in a local store, or market regionally. All the things that are needed to help the agricultural industry succeed. Abattoirs would still be needed for producers to effectively market their products, but the same abattoirs will be at risk of closing their doors if the bill is passed. Quite a dilemma if we truly want to see the growth of our farms and develop local food supply.

Being at the whim of the political bodies that be is like being at the back end of a pack in cycling - those at the back end feel the impact of speed changes like a whiplash. Is this the time to lash small agriculture producers again?