Issue 265: June 2009


 Prison Farms

One of the advantages of living in Ottawa (or maybe it’s a disadvantage) is that we are able to go up to Parliament Hill in support of important causes. This can take the form of singing with the Raging Grannies at a wonderful street-theatre demonstration organized by trade unions against the proposed free trade deal with Colombia; being a witness at a House or Senate Committee hearing, or, as I did a couple of weeks ago, appearing at a media event organized by the local National Farmers Union and others to explain why Corrections Canada should not close down the six working farms connected to Canada’s federal prisons.

Announcing the closure plans in April, Minister of Public Safety Peter Van Loan stated that “the prison farms are set up on a model of agriculture that really reflects the way it worked in the days of the old mixed farm in the 1950s”. He claimed they should be closed because they do not provide relevant employment skills in today’s economy.

Of course this is nonsense, not to mention insulting to the thousands of mixed farmers who have survived Canada’s export-commodity-oriented agriculture policies over the past forty years. They have survived – and are on the verge of a resurgence – because they work, not in terms of an industrial-level wage but in terms of providing wholesome food, healthy environment, and an economic base for their communities. It is certainly a different model than the one that has left us with a polluted environment and an epidemic of obesity and chronic disease, but that doesn’t make it irrelevant, either in terms of the economy or in terms of prisoner rehabilitation. (One does sometimes get the idea that rehabilitation is not the government’s priority – they should really call themselves “Punishment Canada” instead of “Corrections Canada”.)

In fact, these farms are diversified, well equipped and highly respected – they are considered a model in other countries. They produce a range of foods and include facilities which are used by neighbouring farm communities such as egg grading equipment and abattoirs as well as facilities from dairy to greenhouses for their own use. In addition to providing food to their own and other federal institutions, the farms make important local donations – for example, thousands of eggs to the food bank in Kingston. The 300 inmates who work in the farms learn agricultural production and processing, teamwork, reliability and punctuality. They report that working with the animals makes them “calmer”. The nutrition provided to inmates is also important; research in the UK showed that juvenile detainees provided with nutritional supplements showed a 37% reduction in violent incidents.

prisoners    prison turkeys

Mr. Van Loan is now claiming that the farms “cost” the system $4 million a year. It is not clear where this figure comes from. The NFU has asked, and so far received no answers. It seems highly likely that this figure excludes income earmarked for training, and may be related to the potential price of the land on which the farms are located (rumoured to be $2 million for the Kingston site alone). The Federal government is busy trying to sell off any assets it can think of, even if they have to be leased back by government departments, and certainly privatization of both the food service and the prisons themselves would be part of this scenario.

Selling the farm land does not mean that it will continue to be farmed – in fact, quite the opposite. The dairy and poultry operations are outside of the supply-management quota system (since they do not sell on the open market) and any farmer would have to get the necessary quota – a huge hurdle. (see following article) Given the development pressures for these lands, it is highly likely that these lands would be lost to food production, just at the moment when we need to increase our capacity to feed ourselves. – C.K.

For more information and action, go to


Ontario Organic Turkey
Turkey Farmers of Ontario is one of the ‘family’ of supply-management marketing boards operating under federal-provincial legislation in Canada. Producers of ‘broiler’ chickens, laying birds, turkeys, and dairy farmers are allocated quota: a permit to produce a certain number of birds or litres of milk or dozens of eggs, designed to ensure that the total amount produced meets the total market demand. There are penalties for under or over-producing. The organizations are also responsible for self-regulation.

When the marketing boards were initially set up, quota was distributed to the then-current operators; since then, quota itself has become a commodity which producers have to buy, either from retiring quota-holders or the marketing boards. The high cost of quota has made it a major capital investment.

Production of eggs, poultry and milk, including organic, outside of the marketing boards is strictly limited by law. As public demand for organically produced food has grown, there have been a number of confrontations between organic farmers and marketing boards (which have appropriated the territory by changing their names to ‘Dairy Farmers of Canada, Turkey Farmers of Ontario’, etc.).

Recently Turkey Farmers of Ontario (TFO) imposed a rule which requires that “all turkeys must at all times be housed under a solid roof.” The excuse is the theory that avian flu is spread by wild birds so poultry must be kept in confinement to avoid any contact. The newly-minted Canada Organic Standard, however, requires all poultry, including turkeys, to have regular access to outdoors to be certified organic. This means farmers holding turkey quota in Ontario cannot produce turkey that meets the Canadian Organic Standard. Interestingly, this rule only applies to turkey producers who hold quota, not to ‘backyard’ flocks of under 50 birds. The effect of this rule is that organic turkey farmers would be limited to small flocks – a great way to curtail competition for the industrial turkey farmers from free-range organic turkeys.


The Organic Council of Ontario has tried unsuccessfully to work within the regulatory framework to challenge the TFO rule, including direct appeals to the TFO Board, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs Appeal Tribunal and the Farm Products Marketing Commission. OCO has pointed out that there is no reliable evidence linking outdoor husbandry to outbreaks of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza, in fact, all the outbreaks to date have occurred in confinement systems. Experts
in the field of epidemiology say that the supposed link between wild birds and the spread of HPAI is “highly conjectural”. In an attempt at compromise, OCO has asked the Minister of Agriculture, Hon. Leona Dombrowsky, to intervene and instruct TFO to change the rule from total confinement to require that “all feed and water must be kept under a solid roof”, while the birds themselves can roam.

There are only 186 licensed quota holders for turkey production in Ontario, producing 63,000,000 kg. of turkey each year (45% of Canada’s total production). On average, each of Ontario’s turkey producers has over 30,000 birds. Almost all of this production is in total confinement. The National Poultry Board, of which Turkey Farmers of Ontario is a member, has a declared agenda that all poultry production be moved to total confinement.


#265: June 2009 TOC
Prison Farms: Corrections Canada is determined to close six prison farms which provide training and fresh food to the prisoners
Ontario Organic Turkey: outcry over a new regulation forcing turkey farmers to keep their birds in confinement
How Sweet It Is: Cargill wins at every turn with natural and artificial sweeteners
Roundup Time: Chinese herbicides are cutting into Monsanto's profits
Love the Language!: Monsanto describes Monsanto
A peoples' victory over Monsanto: South Africa: an environmental group does not have to pay court costs in suit against Monsanto
Labour-intensive farming boosts development: conclusions of an"Agribusiness Forum" in South Africa
Outside the Box: Venezuelan President Chavez disrespects Tetra Pak's patents
On the menu: Brazilian Amazon forest beef or Canadian grain-fed
(feed-lot) beef: not much of a choice, is it?
Uncivilized Behaviour from Dow: Dow is pushing 2,4D in Brazil -- a compound which is was part of the infamous 'Agent Orange'
GMO Corn & Soy: Negligible Yield Increases: a new independent study shows that genetic engineering doesn't really increase yields