Issue 264: May 2009


 Silencing Spring

“It is simply a fact that the type of agriculture practiced on the prison farms is totally unrelated to modern high-technology capital intensive agriculture.” – Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan, defending the government’s decision to shut down 6 prison farms, WP, 9/4/09

In other words, please don’t maintain any illusions about federal agriculture policy. It’s still stuck in the rut that has characterized federal agriculture policy for the past three decades of neoliberal ideology. The “policy framework” is now styled “Growing Forward” but remains true to the same vision which features, not food for the people of Canada, but “innovation and competitiveness” : “A profitable, innovative, competitive, market-oriented agriculture, agri-foods and agri-based products industry.”

The good news is that we can be assured, because we have been told over and over again by the CFIA, that “Canada has one of the safest food systems in the world.”                     – Press release, 9/2/09

The guy who headed the CFIA when it was established in 1997 as a supposedly autonomous unit of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Ron Doering, retired from the CFIA not long ago and now works as a lawyer-lobbyist for the food industry. When asked about the dual role of the CFIA as an industry promoter and regulator, Doering said recently that “it’s like saying a police officer cannot help an elderly person cross the street and then minutes later pull a gun to take down a bad guy”. Doering’s charming turn of phrase fails to reassure us about the CFIA’s dual mandate to promote the food industry and serve the public interest in food quality and safety. It is the CFIA, after all, that has consistently helped Monsanto across the street for more than a decade by refusing to allow non-genetically engineered food to be labelled as such, while training their guns on small-scale, locally-focused abattoirs and food processors.

Monsanto Cop

It should, then, come as no surprise that neither the CFIA nor Health Canada regard agrotoxins in and on our food as a food safety concern.

Snail’s Pace
We got married in 1964, two years after Rachel Carson published Silent Spring. In 1984, as our children were preparing to leave home for university, a farmer in Saskatchewan reported that the chemical carbofuran was killing birds. “He returned to find the bodies of several thousand Lapland Longspurs dotting the field,” according to a report on the incident by the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS). The Lapland Longspur is a sparrow-like songbird that breeds in the Arctic and winters in open fields across southern Canada and the United States.

In May 2009, 25 years later, Health Canada finally came out with a proposal to “phase out all uses” of the pesticide, decades after Canadian government officials first learned carbofuran was wiping out everything from flocks of songbirds in the Prairies to eagles in British Columbia. This much belated act was only in response to the ruling of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to forbid the sale of any domestic or imported food crops that have traces of  carbofuran, marketed as Furadan.

It’s not that the 1984 report was an isolated incident. In 1993, Agriculture Canada published a special “discussion document” on the chemical that states “carbofuran has one of the highest recorded toxicities to birds of any insecticide registered for use in Canada.” A single grain of carbofuran –  the size of piece of sand –  or a single tainted earthworm can be lethal, the document says. “On the basis of kill rates reported in company studies conducted in cornfields, it can be concluded that the use of granular carbofuran will result in the death of a large proportion of the songbirds breeding in and around treated fields.”

Despite such findings, the government allowed use of the pesticide to continue.

The Globe and Mail tried to interview Pierre Mineau, a research scientist with CWS and one of the world’s leading experts on carbofuran’s environmental impact, but when the newspaper refused to provide questions in advance, Environment Canada officials said Dr. Mineau was not available. Agriculture Canada directed all questions to Health Canada, which declined to provide anyone to be interviewed.

“Health Canada is in the process of preparing a publication on the re-evaluation of carbofuran to be released this summer, which will be proposing to phase out all uses,” Philippe Laroche, a ministry media spokesman, stated in an e-mail. “The re-evaluation of carbofuran indicates that this insecticide poses unacceptable risks to human health and the environment,” he wrote.

Jim Fitzwater, a spokesman for FMC Corp., a Philadelphia company that manufactures carbofuran under the trade nameFuradan{+AE}, said FMC is planning to file an official objection to the EPA ruling, and hopes to have that decision reviewed. He declined to say how much Furadan{+AE} is sold in Canada, but a 1991 report by Health Canada states that between 100,000 and 500,000 kilograms was being used annually on crops. – Globe and Mail, 21/5/09

Sovereignty, eh?
Dow AgroSciences, a US company, is suing the Government of Canada for $2 million in compensation under NAFTA for lost business in response to a ban by the Quebec Government on lawn (non-industrial, cosmetic) pesticides containing 2,4-D. Dow said the Quebec ban was not driven by science but by “political, social or cultural considerations.”  Federal Trade Minister Stockwell Day, responded, “The NAFTA preserves the state’s ability to regulate in the public interest, including public health and environmental issues related to pesticides.” To which Dow countered, “we filed this notice to protect our rights under NAFTA.” In the lawsuit, which is going to a three-member NAFTA arbitration panel, Dow accuses Canada of breaching its obligations under Chapter 11 of NAFTA and seeks damages covering loss of sales, profits, goodwill, investment and other costs related to the products.                                           – Ottawa Citizen, 10/4/09


#264: June 2009 TOC
Silencing Spring: Canadian government has taken 25 years to act against a toxic chemical
Serious Seeds: Patrick Steiner writes about the increase in independent seed business
Don't blame the pigs!: Cathy Holtslander explains how factory farming is the clear cause of diseases such as swine flu
Dying Hog Industry Asks for a Billion: Paul Beingessner describes the decline in pig farming after decades of financial disaster
Billionaires' greed: CEOs continue to rip off immense compensations
Kerala labourers return from Dubai: the loss of migrant jobs threatens poor communities
Full Cost-Accounting: Corn-based ethanol uses 50 gallons of water per mile driven
Meat Packers Update: Competition Bureau has no trouble with only two corporations in meat packing
Germany Bans Cultivation of Monsanto GM Maize: courts take the precautionary approach
Imposing a Business Model: AGRA is described as a way to build agri-business in Africa, not sustainable food production
Fumigating Argentina: the use of glyphosate on GE soy is creating a health catastrophe in the rural sector
"Transgenic treadmill": Glyphosate resistant johnsongrass is forcing more dependence on agri-technology
Brazil's Coffee Crop Threatened: climate change on top of the economic crisis will reduce Brazil's agriculture capacity