By Patrick Meagher
Is your government looking out for you?
How has it handled the issue of neonicotinoids? These are insecticide-treated seeds that are on almost every corn and soybean seed in the province, used by the vast majority of Ontarios farmers.
The province is right on top of it micro-managing the situation. So much so that Grain Farmers of Ontario chairman Henry Van Ankum says that farmers are under attack from their own government. Why do I have the feeling hes right? Because at every turn, the province proves him right.
First of all, who goes to the people to resolve issues of science? And if the Ontario government is so gung-ho to hear what the public has to say about neonicotinoids, why did the province first announce a goal of reducing neonic use by 80 per cent by 2017 and later announce that it wants public input? Isnt it always better to ask for input, then make a decision?
Why even announce a goal of an 80-per-cent reduction if the minister of agriculture is now stressing that the goal is “aspirational”? After annoying the provinces crop farmers, the province is now saying that the 80-per-cent was just a tease?
The plot twist is that the province cannot ban neonics because it is a federal matter. So, why restrict sales of a product that is regulated by Health Canada? Why stick your nose in someone elses jurisdiction?
Health Canada is studying neonics and their effects on bees and will make a decision about it this year. So, why did the province scream hellfire about neonics when we are going to hear from Health Canada on the subject anyway? Why not just wait for Health Canada?
The province is concerned that beekeepers are losing millions of bees each year. This is absolutely true. A honeybees lifespan is six weeks. So, the worlds best beekeeper naturally loses millions of bees annually. Being shocked about millions of bee deaths is like being shocked at the high mortality rate among people in their nineties.
If neonics are such an evil, why is it so hard to find documentation to back that up? When asked about the best concrete evidence to support the reduction of neonics, Minister of Agriculture Jeff Leal answered: “the precautionary approach.”
Hardly evidence, Minister Leal.
The precautionary principle or approach states that in the absence of scientific consensus the burden of proof that something is not harmful falls on those taking an action.
The precautionary principle supports acting out of fear in the absence of evidence. If the principle were used by the pioneers of this continent nothing would be invented. We would still be riding horses and life expectancy would be 36.
The Vancouver think tank Fraser Institute has little use for the precautionary principle. States the institutes senior director for the Centre for Natural Resources Kenneth Green: “the unsuitability of this approach to public policy is well documented. First, by insisting on proof of harmlessness, the principle sets up conditions requiring the proof of a negative an inherently impossible proposition. Second, the principle is fundamentally hypocritical: the requirement to prove the absence of risk only applies to someone who wants to produce something, not people who want to regulate it, or deprive others of its benefits.”
Green adds that the precautionary principle “insists on absolute certainty of safety, an unachievable standard of knowledge in any walk of life.”
Neonics is a good example. If the precautionary principles standard were also applied to the action of reducing the use of neonics, the precautionary principle would argue not to regulate because you dont know what harm will be caused by doing so. All this to say that the precautionary principle is a political tool, not a practical solution.
And wheres the provinces vaunted precautionary principle when it comes to wind turbine projects? Theres no consensus there either. Regardless of your opinion on wind power, the use of the precautionary principle on neonics but not for wind turbines raises some fundamental questions about cherry-picking your cause.
So much for the Liberal governments new-found love to grow the economy with its open-for-business initiative. “Hey, come on in and well talk about how to grow your business and create jobs. Not so fast, grains and oilseeds.”
So, while the province embraces the precautionary principle when its convenient and grasps at straws on neonics, it clarifies who its looking out for and its not the crop farmer.
Patrick Meagher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.