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Changing priorities, in life as in farming

Aug. 12, 2010 – "What I find most distressing is the wealth of weeds pervading peoples’ lawns. Oddly enough, I see roundleaf mallow, bindweed, crabgrass and varying species of thistles, and the image that comes to mind is of a province being held prisoner by a government without a whisper of common sense behind its dealings."


August 12, 2010
By Ralph Pearce

Aug. 12, 2010 – Not long ago, a friend of mine said to me, “Ralph, we’re playing the back nine.” I looked at him with something of a blank expression, which he interpreted as confusion, so he explained the statement. I only told him recently that I was actually asking myself why I considered him a friend, since I was none too happy to hear him telling me what I already knew: I’m getting to be a grumpy old man!
Thank you for that confirmation, dear friend!

A few months later, with the approach of my 48th birthday, I made the conscious choice to revise my lifestyle; staring down the long barrel of 50 does that to a person. So, I started going to bed at or near midnight instead of 2:00 or 3:00am (and time will tell if that holds up with the approach of the busy season), only to recoup the lost sack time on weekends. I also started what I’m trying to turn into a daily ritual of walking for 35 or 45 minutes. It is not, as some would suggest, because I have to, but because I can, and wantto.

That, to me, is the difference between a fad or fantasy and making a significant change in lifestyle.

Time to ponder the pratts in life
Walking is wonderful as exercise goes, and even at a brisk pace, there is time to think and look, and appreciate. Each day provides a different perspective, which can often lead to a new line of thought, or a novel spin on an existing issue. Sadly, it also offers a glimpse of some startling failings in our society, like careless littering or vandalism.

But what I find most distressing is the wealth of weeds pervading peoples’ lawns. Oddly enough, I see roundleaf mallow, bindweed, crabgrass and varying species of thistles, and the image that comes to mind is of a province being held prisoner by a government without a whisper of common sense behind its dealings. If it did, it never would have succumbed to the unsubstantiated prattling of an alarmist, and often ignorant minority among its voters that pushed for a province-wide ban on herbicides.

Now, I am the last person to petition for something on the basis of appearances; in my books, you can put a three-piece suit on a moron but contrary to my father’s belief, that just makes for a well-dressed moron. And if people treat him better solely on the cut of his clothes, then shame on those people.

Still, it’s my lawn, and I should be able to use herbicides on it to maintain its healthy, weed-free appearance (if I want), without a neighbour accusing me of putting my lawn’s health above that of his dog or grandchildren.

Yet with the herbicide ban in Ontario, it is disappointing, to say the least, that the principles of sound science were carelessly and arrogantly ignored. At most, it is a source of constant frustration that a small klatsch of people without a requisite understanding of fundamental biochemistry or registration procedures, could convince a government to abandon scientific principles with such careless disregard.

In fact, one chemist with a crop protection company contacted the Canadian Cancer Society after the ban was imposed, requesting it reverse its support of the ban, as well as the contention that herbicides cause cancer. The society’s representative conceded that her statement was correct; there is no definitive correlation between herbicide use and cancer rates, but that the Cancer Society couldn’t rescind its support for fear of losing credibility.

No one is safe
Keep in mind that the same principles used in the testing and registration of glyphosate-tolerant crops or any new herbicides were used to test the safety and performance of pick-up trucks, microwaves, cell phones and countless other necessities and conveniences on which we all rely. If we negate the use of herbicides because of the demands of a small and vocal yet largely ill-informed group, then it becomes just as easy to toss aside all the other gadgets and frills we have in our homes, all without a shred of evidence to contradict the original registration guidelines. All it takes is for some “doctors” and “scientists” to climb on the bandwagon with their “concerns.” That there’s a suspicious lack of empirical evidence to support their claims no longer seems to matter. That their doctorates might be in urban planning or psychology is also often ignored.

The reason I bring this up is simple: as long as we have governments, be they federal, provincial or municipal, which are geared to attracting votes by placating the more vocal elements in our society, farmers will always be at risk of having their livelihoods tampered with. In Ontario, we have a herbicide ban on all residential properties in place, right now. The exemptions to the ban include municipal properties and parks, golf courses and, of course, farming!

How long before the vocal fringe attacks farm use of herbicides on the basis of food safety and security? Without an understanding of growing or processing conditions in countries where some of our foodstuffs originate, they have no basis for making such a demand. Yet just as the mainstream media never lets the truth get in their way of a good story, the vocal minority seldom lets that niggling topic of “sound science” get in the way of shutting down or impairing the progress of farmers.

A current example of this is Bill C-474, a private member’s bill that, if passed, would ignore sound scientific principles and rely more on the whims, perceptions and fears of potential export customers, the very group the Bill claims to be protecting, along with Canadian farmers. It’s hardly surprising to find that the bill was put forth, not just by BC NDP Member of Parliament Alex Atamanenko, but with help from the Suzuki Foundation. The debate surrounding the Bill has sparked support from several non-government organizations that oppose genetic modification, in all its forms.

In many ways, it would also eliminate “sound science” from the decision-making process for farmers and their customers. That means capitalism also would take a beating by deleting “choice” from conventional “supply and demand” transactions.

The lesson here is, if sound, scientific principles get in your way, scream loud enough to get the government to act on your behalf, and protect you.

The question is: who will protect us from the protectorate?

It’s going to take a lot walking to find an answer to that one.

Ralph Pearce
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