31, 2003: The year 2003 ushered in big changes for
farmers. The consequences, both good and bad, will reach far
beyond the New Year.
Provincially, it's the Nutrient Management Act and the different
approach envisaged by our new Liberal government. Nationally,
there's the Canadian Agricultural Income Stabilization program,
recently confirmed by federal/provincial signatures. Internationally,
one sick cow has rewritten the future for Canadian beef production
and other ruminants.
"Refocused" is a good way to think about our new
Liberal government's plans for the Nutrient Management Act.
No longer will the regulations under this act be agriculture's
primary contribution to environmental stewardship. Source
water protection rules are coming, designed to implement all
the recommendations of the Walkerton Inquiry into the tainted
water tragedy. Not only will this refocus enforcement responsibilities
on the Ministry of Environment: more significantly, nutrient
management rules will start off farm, pushing into the background
the balance between on-farm nutrients and crop needs.
"Permanent" is a good way to think about the just-signed
federal-provincial Canadian Agricultural Income Stabilization
program. This is a good attempt to overcome the need for ad
hoc programs triggered almost annually by crises due to weather
calamities or price disasters, and a much-improved approach
to stabilizing farm incomes. When prices or production collapse,
governments are committed to substantial support. What's the
hitch? Payments will be based on the average of previous years
-- and we know that those averages are set to continue their
long pattern of decline.
"Unreal" is the catastrophic impact of one sick
cow in Alberta. Ad hoc guidelines developed in response to
an outbreak of epidemic proportions in Great Britain have
been implemented holus-bolus in response to one sick cow.
The tortuous process of writing new, more appropriate international
trade rules for countries with a documented low level of mad
cow disease, just got longer and more convoluted -- the result
of the identification of one BSE dairy cow in Washington State.
On the surface, our food system has become a maze of contradictory
messages. One sick cow in Alberta -- the U.S. slams its border
shut to good Canadian beef. One sick cow in Washington --
American beef remains safe and wholesome. The search for the
source of the infection is just an abundance of caution, and
designed to strengthen safeguards and firewalls. At a deeper
level, the adoption of industrial approaches to food safety
and promises of "satisfaction guaranteed or your money
refunded" has created expectations of "no risk"
in the food system. But, food starts out as living organisms
-- plants and animals. Claims of "no risk" are out
of reach. We have created expectations the food system cannot
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