Friday, May 22, 2015

Mis-Guided Mission?

Nova Scotia's Turkey Trauma continues unabated.  Is it based upon a mis-guided Mission by the Honorable Minister of Agriculture, Keith Colwell?
Does anybody recognize this person?  Who
might it be?  Could it be the nameless
bureaucrat who decided, approved, or acquiesced
to shutting down all of Nova Scotia's
small, local abattoirs?

The Chronicle Herald in Truro, NS covered the Minister's address and Q&A session at the annual meeting of the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture held on Nov. 27, 2014.  This may seem like ancient history to write about this 6 months later, but you'll soon see why the review is necessary.

A Good Question

Farmer Robert Richards from Dutch Brook, near Sydney NS started it off by telling the Minister "This is not appropriate business” for the NS government to allow an inspection crackdown on small meat processors that has forced longtime turkey processor Gordon Fraser of Pictou County to turn off his turkey plucker.

Minister Colwell responded that:
  • "Food safety takes priority over everything"; and

  • Warned that if that facility or any other uninspected facility in the province processes food that causes someone to get gravely ill or die, Nova Scotia producers won’t be selling their product anywhere, and

    "That’s the last thing we need in Nova Scotia."
I find both of the Minister's answers to be very telling.

Analysis of Minister's Answers

The Minister's first answer seems to be hyperbole on food safety.

Yes, food safety is important, but isn't the only issue to be considered.

For example, if food safety truly take priority over everything else, then this means that striving for food safety perfection comes first and foremost.  The Minister is proposing that it doesn't matter if adequate quantity of food is available to feed the people, or that its affordable, or distributed to all regions, just as long as food safety is perfect.  Obviously, that leads us in the wrong direction.

First of all, there is no such thing as "perfectly safe food".  There will always be some risk, no matter how small that risk may be for a particular food.  What we need is adequate levels of safety from managed risks, that considers safety, nutritional content, affordability, tasty, and readily available in all areas of the province.  Balance, not extremeism of food safety, first & foremost, regardless of the cost and feasibility.

If a wildcat farmer or incompetent food producer causes a food safety disaster, it can severely hurt the industry, both big and small producers.  In that, I think everyone agrees.  However, that risk is far greater with the large, mechanized, poorly inspected, widely distributed foods; not a small local producer with 34 years of excellence.

By placing too restrictive controls or prohibitions onto the people, the government makes it less safe.  When people lose their freedoms unjustly due to some bureaucratic whim, the people will become frustrated and seek alternatives to restore their rights and freedoms.  Non-compliance with the law is often an option.  Black market operations, where the consumer helps sponsor and hide the back alley solutions, will naturally spring up.  Eventually, something will go wrong, and the disaster will occur, in spite of the government's ban.

Another Question

Robert Parker of Central West River asked the Minister why a solution could not be reached to keep the small butcher shops open while ensuring health and safety.

No answer by the Minister to Robert Parker's question was recorded in the Truro Daily News article.

Pictou North Colchester Federation of Agriculture passed two resolutions in support of gordon Fraser and similar other abattoir-butcher shops.

Unfortunately, their parent organization, Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture defeated both of these motions when they were asked to ratify the local chapter's actions on a providence-wide basis.  See coverage on this NSFA meeting here.

Robert Parker believes the NSFA defeated these motions because the provincial body is more concerned with the mega farms, rather than the small farmers, and mega-farms are helped by destroying the small. local farms.  That theory was dismissed and denied by a spokesperson for NSFA.

When the province-wide NSFA defeated the two motions, the Nova Scotia government likely assumed incorrectly that they had adequate cover to ignore the situation.

Mis-Guided Mission

I have been told that when Minister Colwell took office, he adopted a personal Mission (or vendetta ?) to close down all non-certified abattoirs and food processing plants.  He is said that prior governments and MLA's were not willing or able to take on that Mission, but he was going to do it.

Some may think that Colwell's personal Mission is due to lobbyists working for the millionaire Big Ag-Big Food bosses who whisper in his ear.  The Minister sayshe is only motivated by better food safety for the people of Nova Scotia.

For now, I will take the Minister at his word, until we have prima facia evidence to the contrary.

However, the question remains, is Minister Colwell more committed to food safety, or to shutting down all of the small abattoirs?  Is Minister Colwell more interested in the means, or the goal?  What would he decide if he learns that shutting down the small abattoirs makes food safety worse, or more risky?  Would he still be committed to the means, rather than the end goal?

Reasonableness and flexibility, or stubborn pig-headedness?  Is Minister Colwell willing to listen, and consider other facts?

Hopefully the Minister will re-consider his priorities and plans before it is too late.

Ontario went too aggressive in 2004 after Justice Haine's Meat Report, contrary to Justice Haines' recommendations (see Meat Regulations Gone Wild).  Ontario subsequently lost almost all of its small independent meat processors in the following years.  Since then, OMAFRA had to admit its mistake, offer grants and subsidies to build new replacement abattoirs, and retract the excessive regulations.  The Ontario meat industry still has not recovered, in spite of these huge efforts and expenditures.

If nothing else works, a total pig-headed unwillingness to look facts in the face will see us through.
If nothing else works, a total pig-headed unwillingness to look facts in the face will see us through.

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