This week’s guest commentary comes from Clarence Nywening of the Christian Farmer’s Federation of Ontario
Ontario farmers have been able to conduct their business while enjoying a relatively high level of public trust for a long time. The farm community did not take that trust for granted. Deliberate steps were taken to show the public it could count on farmers to do the right thing. The well-known Environmental Farm Plan is a shining example of farmers’ proactive approach to dealing with society’s environmental concerns by showing their commitment to stewardship. But recently, the public’s concerns on issues such as animal welfare and environmental protection are on the rise and the farm community’s shield of public trust seems to have developed some dents.
There has been much public concern about the prophylactic use of neonicotinoid pesticides by farmers in Ontario. In November, the Proposal for Enhancing Pollinator Health and Reducing the Use of Neonicotinoid Pesticides in Ontario was posted on the Environmental Bill of Rights. The government plans to develop a Pollinator Health Action Plan through stakeholder engagement; public meetings have been scheduled and written submissions to the posting can be made, all part of the consultation process. The EBR posting should have come as no surprise. The Premier’s mandate letter to the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs tasked the Ministry with ensuring a significant reduction in the use of neonicotinoid treated seeds in the 2016 growing season through the use of regulations, permits or other measures. The letter showed clearly a sense of urgency on this issue.
Meanwhile, the farm community has been diligently trying to work through this difficult topic, looking for solutions guided by science and economic outcomes. But over the past few years, bee mortality has very much become an urban worry. The farm sector cannot claim sole ownership of pollinator health concerns; there is also a sincere urban population that has become alarmed by the reports. Bee mortality is not just a matter of science and economics; it is also a matter of environmental concern and human emotion.
Ontario’s political landscape has undergone changes and the balance has tipped in favor of urban matters and concerns. While Ontario’s farmers have long been the recipient of public trust, that trust can easily be eroded if the public feels its concerns are being ignored. The government has shown it will respond to social and environmental concerns of urban consumers. By acknowledging this reality, the farm community can move forward and continue to work with government to look for solutions that balance the economical, societal and environmental needs that exist. There is more at stake than a pollinator health plan. The farm community needs to continue to not take the public’s trust for granted.