Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The omnivore’s other dilemma: expanding access to non-industrial food | Grist

The omnivore’s other dilemma: expanding access to non-industrial food | Grist
(click on the link above)

Another farmer's voice.

Something I have struggled with also - ensuring that the food we produce is affordable for everyone, yet at a price that allows me to continue doing it. I can't afford to lose money, but I see my costs keep going up.

Friday, March 25, 2011

New Pest Threatens Organic Fruit Production in BC - will it come to the Gulf Islands?


It’s not just growers facing new pest threat

A new soft fruit pest may spell the end for organic cherry growers, an entomologist from Washington State told a horticultural symposium for orchardists held in Kelowna last week.
Betsy Beers, of Washington State University, said growers were unprepared for last year’s arrival of the tiny vinegar fly, the Spotted Wing Drosophila, because they believed climatic conditions such as the dry, hot summers and cold winters here would prevent it from becoming a problem here.
The SWD seemed to spend seven or eight decades happily in Asia, then three more in Hawaii, but three years after that it was everywhere, she said.
“I’ve never seen anything like it in my career,” added Beers.
The fly’s first appearance was in late 2009 in Washington and B.C., and it also appeared in 2009 and 2010 in Italy, Russia, Spain and France, as well as on the eastern coast of the U.S., and even in Ontario late last year.
Beers said many in the B.C. industry organized rapidly last year to deal with the new pest but admitted in Washington their counterparts were a bit slower getting getting started because they really didn’t believe it would be an issue.
“This pest doesn’t respect borders, so we’re all in this together,” said Beers
And, she added, the fly seems able to establish itself everywhere and can be devastating.
“I don’t think anyone is immune from this.”
In addition to infesting orchards, Beers said the fly will attack native plants such as Oregon grape, black currant, blue elderberry, cherry laurel, mulberry, serviceberry and chokecherry.
“So, the battle will be everywhere, not just in orchards.”
Local cherry growers had only in recent years been able to vastly reduce the number of chemical sprays against the cherry fruit fly with use of a new bait called GF-120. So they are disappointed to now have this new pest in their orchards, threatening crops and requiring the use of those sprays again.
The SWD seems to be most attracted to cherries, Beers told the growers.
It does not seem too enthusiastic about wine and juice grapes, which may contain too much acid to be attractive.
But she said the fly does attack table grapes.
Unfortunately, this pest not only has a short life cycle but females can lay 219 to 563 eggs and in the summer can produce a new generation every 10 days.
By last October and November, she said traps were catching thousands of SWD, indicating a rapidly-increasing population of the pest.
She expects that pattern to continue this year, with the largest populations building up late in the year.
Contrary to local authorities, she minimized the importance of clean-up in the orchard in the fall as a factor in overwintering populations.
Growers also learned about issues such as combatting rain-splitting problems, mildew spore monitoring, cherry nutrition, early cherry varieties, and held the annual general meeting of the Okanagan-Kootenay Cherry Growers’ Association at Friday’s sessions.

Local growers meet to discuss latest insect pest

The Okanagan Kootenay Fruit Growers Association and the Okanagan Tree Fruit Cooperative organized a series of meetings last week to provide education and instructions to growers on how to handle the Spotted Wing Drosophila.
Spotted Wing Drosophila (SWD ) is a new pest of soft fruit, berries and grapes in the Okanagan-Similkameen, and Creston valleys. The pest caused significant negative economic impact in 2010. Because authorities expect the pest to be even more prevalent in 2011, the meetings were put together to give growers the information needed to control the insect.
At least 50 growers were on hand for one of the meetings, which was held at Cawston Hall on Tuesday, March 15.
The agenda included a number of guest speakers, touching on such topics as:
- Identification and life cycle of the SWD
- Oregon experience and strategies for 2011
-  Coastal experience and strategies for 2011
- Okanagan experience and trapping information from 2010
- New potential parasite and native hosts
- Inspection protocol for 2011
- Control strategies for 2011
Dr. Peter Shearer of Oregon State University spoke to the group about that state’s  experience with SWD. He told the gathering that monitoring traps only gleaned small numbers through the growing season, only to find larger numbers at the end of the season. The growers were dismayed to find SWD in traps even in the middle of winter. Shearer told the growers that their research indicated that the insect could withstand cold temperatures from -15 to -25C.
“How do they overwinter? We have no clue,” he told the group. “We are also conducting further research to try and find out just how effective our traps are.”
Shearer noted that there were still a number of important questions that needed to be answered before the SWD could be dealt with in the most effective manner, and that research into the fly would be continued in 2011.
“We need to find out what is more important to population growth - temperature, lack of sprays, alternative host plants - and we need more information as to the effectiveness of our traps,” he pointed out.
Other meetings for the Spotted Wing Drosophila took place in Oliver, Kelowna, Summerland, and Creston.

Legislation and Regulations Reflect Underlying Goals and Values: by John Clement, GM of CFFO

The CFFO Commentary
Title: Legislation and Regulations Reflect Underlying Goals and Values
By John Clement
March 25, 2011

At a recent provincial meeting of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario, a guest speaker challenged our members to keep in mind that all public policies are aimed at particular goals and outcomes, based on an understanding of what we value in life. I think it’s an important piece of advice and one that needs to be kept front and centre when we create and debate new laws and regulations for farming.

In my experience, most farmers see the world as a place for hard work, personal initiative and responsibility, plus working cooperatively with others when you can. They want to be rewarded for their contributions, to see their tax dollars promote family enterprise and values and to see their lives unencumbered by rules and regulations that discourage initiative.

All that being said, farmers sometimes feel like the world doesn’t take their values into account. In fact, it seems like society keeps asking for more and more, with little concern for the impacts it has on farm businesses. Farmers are called upon to continually adapt their businesses to reflect society’s concerns about water quality, endangered species, climate change and a host of other issues. Farmers often believe that the balancing point between societal concerns and their own needs has swung too far towards the former. The CFFO has heard that opinion expressed several times throughout the last decade, particularly in our recent seminar series on regulations.

Given the increasing demands of society, and how they eventually play out in legislation and regulations, perhaps a quote from author C.S. Lewis needs to be kept in mind. He said several decades ago: 

It is easy to think the State has a lot of different objects -- military, political, economic, and what not. But in a way things are much simpler than that. The State exists simply to promote and to protect the ordinary happiness of human beings in this life. A husband and wife chatting over a fire, a couple of friends having a game of darts in a pub, a man reading a book in his own room or digging in his own garden -- that is what the State is there for. And unless they are helping to increase and prolong and protect such moments, all the laws, parliaments, armies, courts, police, economics, etc., are simply a waste of time.

It’s important to remember that many of our public policies are aimed at those precise goals. But in the complex, multi-layered world of legislation and regulations, it’s often hard to see the forest for the trees. And sometimes the trees need a good pruning so that the forest flourishes. Accordingly farmers need to remain vigilant to ensure that their voice is heard in the ongoing discussion about societal values and how they are expressed in rules and regulations.

John Clement is the General Manager of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario. The CFFO Commentary represents the opinions of the writer and does not necessarily represent CFFO policy. The CFFO Commentary is heard weekly on CFCO Chatham, CKNX Wingham, Ontario and is archived on the CFFO website: CFFO is supported by 4,200 family farmers across Ontario.

Beef Industry Carves a Course -

Beef Industry Carves a Course -

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Landgrabbing - Macleans article March 17 2011

Betting the farm – and winning
Published: 17 Mar 2011

Cultura/Hugh Whitaker
Macleans | Thursday, March 17, 2011

Investors are buying up our farmland and making traditionalists nervous
by Sarah Elton

The great plains of the Prairies grew the nation, fed the British Empire and fuelled our literary canon. Now the world’s breadbasket has a new role in a growing number of investment portfolios. Investors are buying Canadian agricultural land, betting that rising food prices, a ballooning global population and growing worldwide scarcities in farmland will mean a payoff for them.

“The interest we’re seeing has gone exponential,” said Stephen Johnston of Agcapita, one of a handful of private companies in this country that are investing in land on behalf of high-net-worth individuals and creating farmland funds because, he says, compared to other parts of the world, Canadian farmland remains cheap. Prices range from about $500 an acre in Saskatchewan or $700 in Manitoba to a steeper $1,200 in Alberta (versus anywhere from $6,000 to $10,000 an acre in Iowa, say, where prices have risen dramatically in the past year). Many predict that one day the land will be as precious as gold—or even better. “Unlike gold, farmland generates ongoing income,” said Johnston.

Not only are investors speculating on land, they believe they can make a profit leasing the acreages to farmers while they wait for the right time to sell. Investors in Saskatchewan are charging rent equal to seven per cent of a property’s worth, said Johnston. That would mean a farmer pays around $70,000 upfront in rent, per year, for an average-sized 2,000-acre farm from Agcapita. The number could climb with farm prices, which are already rising. According to Statistics Canada, the price of Alberta farmland almost doubled between 2000 and 2009. According to Marvin Painter, a business professor at the University of Saskatchewan, the dividend yield from the rent and the predicted capital gain from a future land sale works out to be only slightly below what a blue-chip stock would reap.

“It’s a forever asset that produces income,” said Brad Farquhar, co-founder of Assiniboia Capital Corporation, which controls more than 110,000 acres, worth about $55 million, in Saskatchewan. They began raising money for their venture in 2007, both from big clients and smaller investors—half of their approximately 500 investors put in less than $10,000, he said. To ensure they are buying land that can generate rental income, the company assesses the productivity of a farm, and therefore the worth of the land, by examining soil quality, past yields and rainfall. “The last thing you want to do is buy land where the nutrients have been extracted by the last farmer,” he said. They only rent to farmers who “farm well,” and agrologists go out every year to inspect the land. The company hopes to assemble a large farmland portfolio that might be of interest to big-league investors. “Maybe Canada Pension Plan takes an interest in farming,” he said.

While the pension plans haven’t come calling yet, investors elsewhere have their eye on the Prairies. Johnston at Agcapita receives at least one call a week from people outside of the country who are interested in buying in. “I say thank you very much for telling us we’re on to a good idea, but you can’t invest,” he said. That’s because only Canadians are permitted to own farmland in Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba. But anyone is permitted to purchase farmland in B.C., Ontario and Quebec where, last year, outrage followed reports that Chinese interests wanted to buy millions worth of farmland in the province. Indian businesses, too, are looking to invest in cranberry production there, following in the footsteps of a U.S. subsidiary of Manulife Corporation that purchased one of the province’s cranberry farms in 2009. The fracas prompted the Desjardins Group to release a study paper concluding that “the public’s reaction has shown just how much Quebecers care about who owns the land.”

Investment of private equity in farmland has been ongoing for several years in the U.K., Ukraine, New Zealand and Australia. (In fact, the Alberta pension fund is reported to have purchased land in Australia that will be developed into a timber plantation and farm.) The governments of land-poor countries such as Saudi Arabia and Korea, as well as corporations and hedge funds, are buying huge swaths of farmland in South America, Southeast Asia and Africa, in what many call a land grab. A World Bank report on the issue described how farmers in the Democratic Republic of Congo, displaced after land was sold to a foreign buyer, had to pay guards at a national park to let them grow their crops there.

Indeed, wherever these sales are taking place, there is protest, said Devlin Kuyek, a researcher with GRAIN, a non-profit that has studied the phenomenon since it noticed the trend in 2008, after the stock market crashed. “It’s about food sovereignty and control over land and water,” he said of the protests. In Canada, too, there is growing opposition.

“Farmland is food land,” said Kevin Wipf, executive director of the National Farmers’ Union, which authored a report that condemns the trend. “To have it bought up to be rented back to those who grow our food is not ideal for the food system.” Critics worry farmers will lose control if they don’t own their land, and this might mean that more profitable crops, such as those used to make biofuels, are prioritized over food production. Also, farmers already have a hard enough time making a living, and they fear investors will take away more of their profits. “You are putting in another player who is taking money away from the equation,” said Kuyek.

So far, the amount of Canadian land that has been sold to investors is unknown, in part because government is not keeping track, said Wipf. Rémi Lemoine, chief operating officer of Farm Credit Canada, a federal Crown corporation that usually lends money to farmers who want to expand their businesses, says they’ve also helped finance purchases by land equity groups with loans of “up to $9 million at a time,” though Lemoine said they won’t work with foreign organizations and the land must remained farmed, even if the farmer doesn’t own the title.

Just who controls the land goes deeper than simply whose name is on a deed, said Wayne Caldwell, professor of rural planning and development at the University of Guelph. “From a community perspective, it’s problematic. We have a legacy of farms being places where people live and make a living. It’s a romantic view, but it’s also a reality,” he said. “We’re in uncharted territory. We’re not sure what the implications will be.”
Source: Macleans

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Changing the Face of Hunger - US Ambassador Tony Hall on Fora.TV


Changing the Face of Hunger - Fora.TV
Ambassador Tony Hall talks about his book, "Changing the Face of Hunger," at a symposium hosted by the Social Action Summer Institute in Dayton, Ohio. He discusses what he has learned and experienced during his humanitarian efforts and his travels to 115 nations. Furthermore, he describes his battle against world hunger and explains that his faith has motivated him in fighting this battle. Mr. Hall argues that hunger and poverty are non-partisan issues and suggests that liberals and conservatives work together to create legislation to end world hunger.

Tony Hall represented Ohio from 1979 to 2003 in the U.S. House of Representatives. During his tenure in Congress, Rep. Hall's primary focus was addressing hunger around the world. He made frequent trips to more than 100 countries where hunger was widespread. He was chairman of the Select Committee on Hunger from 1989 to 1993. When the committee was abolished, Hall fasted for 22 days in protest. He was founder of the Congressional Friends of Human Rights Monitors and the Congressional Hunger Center. After serving more than 20 years in Congress, he became the ambassador and chief of the U.S. mission to the U.N. Food and Agricultural Agencies in Rome.

AgCanada article: Too much market, not enough sheep to fill it

 The article below is from Manitoba, but the same story plays out here in BC.  Lamb prices are higher than ever, because of basic supply - demand economics.  Back at university in Economics 101, everyone learned that.  Now you can really see it.  And prices have been increasing for beef for the same reason.  It is frustrating to see news reports about the global food situation make casual comments about beef prices increasing because of the higher price of grain - if people could only understand that what drives prices for beef and lamb producers are simpler cases of supply and demand - no link to costs necessarily, because the buyer sets the price based on how much they want it.  Value chains are being developed to give beef and sheep producers a bigger piece of the pie, but with the prices right now most producers don't need the security of a value chain.


Thursday, February 24, 2011 | 
By Daniel Winters, Co-operator staff
Too Much Market, Not Enough Sheep To Fill It
TOUGH SELL: High market prices are delaying efforts to develop a sheep industry value chain, says Lucien Lesage, treasurer of the Manitoba Sheep Producers Association.
Too much demand, and not enough supply. That’s not often a problem in the livestock business, and if you’re a sheep producer right now, it’s a nice problem to have.
However, it has thrown a wrench into efforts to organize a value chain connecting producers, slaughterhouses and retailers, says the treasurer of the Manitoba Sheep Association.
“We’re experiencing record prices right now, so it has been very difficult to get commitments from producers, abattoirs and retailers at the current price levels,” said Lucien Lesage, who raises sheep near Notre Dame.
Data collected from meetings of stakeholders has been accumulated and analyzed, but the process that ends March 31 has been put on hold for the time being.
Some of the money for the research provided by MRAC is left over, but continued efforts will be supported by the association’s own coffers.
High prices in Ontario, currently around $1.70-$2 per pound live weight for 90-to 110- pound market lambs, and 85 cents for cull ewes, mean that most sheep grown on Manitoba pastures are going to feed that voracious market. Local consumers are left with no choice but to buy imported product, which many consider inferior.
Brian Greaves, a sheep producer from Miniota, said that while the current marketing focus has shifted towards assembling larger-size loads to Ontario, a core group of committed producers is still working towards serving the Manitoba market.
“It’s lack of numbers that’s the problem,” he said. “For a value chain, to have someone employed to manage it, there’s not the numbers there to warrant it. But it still can go ahead on a smaller basis.”
The latest Statistics Canada numbers peg the Manitoba sheep herd at around 25,000 breeding ewes on about 500 farms.
Abattoirs expressed a willingness to increase their capacity, but it “all comes back to supply,” said Lesage.
Unlike Saskatchewan, Manitoba producers cannot legally sell on-farm slaughtered products. Some producers are rumoured to be navigating a grey area of the law by selling live lambs to on-farm customers, then providing slaughter facilities on site.
Clandestine slaughter operators who buy lambs at auction are also said to exist near Winnipeg, but the association and provincial officials are trying to discourage the practice.
Many immigrants prefer fresh slaughtered lamb, and buying live chickens and other livestock at so-called “wet” markets is common around the world.
“If one lamb were to be killed illegally and then cause a health issue, I think the whole industry would suffer,” said Lesage.
“But it’s a tough one. On the other hand, they do support our market. It’s also cultural and traditional. When I was young, we always used to slaughter our own meat on the farm, not for resale but for our own use.”
Discussions are underway to remove interprovincial trade barriers, and by January 2012, all sheep must be RFID tagged.
In a presentation at Ag Days, provincial sheep and goat specialist Mamoon Rashid said that more than 57 per cent of the lamb consumed in Canada is imported.
“Are there opportunities there or not?” said Rashid, adding that since 2006, lamb has held steady at about $1.70 per pound on average.
Pointing to a chart of immigration to Canada since 1978, he showed that while other red meats have stagnated, lamb and chevon have doubled in line with new arrivals from South Asia, the Philippines, Arab nations and Africa.
That’s unlikely to change in the near future, he added, because future economic development is “totally dependent” on immigration to replace slumping birth rates.
Global demand is growing, and even the traditional sheep-powerhouse nations New Zealand and Australia are having trouble satisfying their export markets. That means there is less product from those countries available to hit Canadian shelves, he added.
Cost of production for lamb is low compared to cattle, with current costs estimated at 90 cents per pound, depending on the operation.
Rashid said that over the past decade, the price of lamb has never dipped below the cost of production, making lamb production consistently profitable.
“Definitely, we need a consistent supply the whole year round if we want to really make some bucks and keep the industry going,” he said.
There are challenges, too. Some 80 per cent of Manitoba’s production is shipped to Calgary and Ontario. Also, top-quality breeding stock is hard to come by, and importation from the United States is a lengthy, paperwork-heavy process. Veterinary drugs registered for use in Canada are often not available, and support from experienced small ruminant practitioners can also be hard to find in some rural areas.
Predators are an ongoing problem, as well.
“Coyotes are the biggest lamb consumers in Manitoba,” joked Lesage.
We’re experiencing record price sright now,so it hasbeen very difficult to get commitments from producers,abattoirs and retailers at the current price levels.”

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Federal government to bolster food inspection

Funny thing about the announcement by the federal government that they are going to increase the food inspection budget by $100 million - the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has just announced to BC that they are pulling out of domestic meat inspection - so how does that make our food safer? Who is going to do the inspecting now and who is going to pay for it? The provincial government doesn't want to pay for inspection in provincial plants - at least it looks like they don't . They are just conducting meetings and collecting submissions from affected stakeholders looking for solutions. Or at least looking like they are looking for solutions.

Federal government to bolster food inspection

Federal government to bolster food inspection

The Conservative government pledged Tuesday to boost spending on Canada's food inspection system by $100 million over the next five years.

Photograph by: Mark Blinch, Reuters

The Conservative government pledged Tuesday to boost spending on Canada's food inspection system by $100 million over the next five years.
The additional money for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is needed to fix problems flagged in 2009 in the wake of a deadly listeriosis outbreak, the government said.
Independent investigator Sheila Weatherill identified a series of food-safety gaps in Canada — including a void in leadership within the federal government — that helped contribute to a listeriosis outbreak in 2008 that left 22 Canadians dead.
They had all consumed tainted deli meats produced at a federally inspected plant in Toronto, operated by Maple Leaf Foods.
"This initiative will enable the Government to complete its response to all of the recommendations of the Weatherill Report through targeted investments in inspector training, additional science capacity, and electronic tools to support the work of front-line inspectors," the budget states.
Before Tuesday's announcement, the CFIA estimated a decrease in its budget for food safety and nutrition risks funding for this upcoming fiscal year compared to two years ago.
In 2009-10, the agency spent $270.5 million on food safety and nutrition risks. The CFIA's main estimates for 2011-12, published in February, estimated $258 million for food safety and nutrition risks funding.
Tuesday's $100-million pledge over five years to improve food inspection capacity comes after the government allocated another $75 million in 2009 to help implement Weatherill's recommendations.
The earlier money was shared among CFIA, Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada.
Following this initial investment in 2009, meat inspectors complained there still weren't enough front-line inspectors at processing plants.

Canadian Food Inspection Agency - Biosecurity Tools

Canadian Food Inspection Agency - Biosecurity Tools

The health of Canada’s livestock and poultry is a key factor in the success of Canadian agriculture at home and around the world.
To remain competitive in evolving and increasingly sophisticated markets, Canadian producers are on the lookout for ways to improve their operations—including animal health.
Most producers already use some biosecurity practices. Many are simple and cost very little. All biosecurity measures can help protect not only the economic viability and profitability of our livestock and poultry sectors, but also human and animal health, food safety, and the environment.
Animal biosecurity aims to keep diseases off farms, and prevent them from spreading. In fact, farm-level biosecurity is the best investment you can make to help keep your animals healthy and your business strong.
And because certain diseases can affect both animals and humans, biosecurity measures are important for protecting the health of your family and employees.
You can achieve effective biosecurity by using a series of straightforward measures that create a circle of defence on your farm.
Watch how these biosecurity measures apply when managing farm access, animal health and farm operations. Although many of the measures are common sense—and are likely already in place on your farm—it’s important to review them regularly.
Your veterinarian or animal health expert can help you assess the risks to your operation, and then plan and implement appropriate biosecurity measures.
An effective biosecurity plan begins with measures to control access to your farm by everyone who visits, from staff and visitors to delivery and service personnel.
The first measure is to designate distinct zones where varying levels of protection may be needed.
If possible, indicate your farm’s boundaries. You can do this by using fencing and clear and visible signage. It’s also a good idea to limit access to a single entrance.
Your veterinarian can advise you about establishing restricted and controlled access zones.
The restricted access zone is the area of greatest biosecurity risk.
It’s where the animals are located and where access should be limited to essential personnel.
The controlled-access biosecurity zone is the buffer that surrounds the restricted zone. It provides a first level of biosecurity. Access to the controlled zone is less restricted but it should still be limited to necessary personnel.
Clearly identify the boundaries to all zones with signs or markers. Also, ensure entry and exit points can be locked—by using gates or fences.
You should control movement into and between the designated zones.
Make sure there’s a specific location where vehicles can be cleaned or disinfected when entering or leaving a biosecure zone.
Set up a transition area at the entrance to each production unit. Make sure hand-washing facilities are available at each entrance and exit.
Visitors’ access to all zones must be controlled. A simple visitors’ log will help you keep track of everyone who has been on the premises.
Your animal health expert or veterinarian can help you identify hygiene requirements for visitors and employees. These requirements may include special footwear and clothing, and hand-washing for anyone entering and leaving barns and production units.
When it comes to managing the movement of animals, there are basic biosecurity measures you can put into place to help protect your animals’ health.
Purchase new animals from suppliers with comprehensive disease-control programs. Be sure to practice animal identification. And participate in traceability systems when possible.
New animals should be isolated for a sufficient period of time to ensure they are not incubating a disease. Also, evaluate them for disease before they are introduced to the farm population. The evaluation should include examination by trained animal health experts, and may include tests for specific diseases.
And it’s not just new animals that should be isolated. Animals that have been off the farm, perhaps at fairs and exhibitions, should be segregated before rejoining the population.
Effectively managing your animals’ health also means that you observe them daily for signs of disease.
Monitoring should include regular consultations with your animal health expert. He or she can help you set up disease-prevention and herd-management programs, ensure your animal health records are up to date, and investigate animal deaths.
Make sure your staff look for signs of declining animal health. These include loss of appetite, weight loss, abnormal behavior and unexplained death.
Your animal health expert can also help keep you informed about diseases found or suspected in neighbouring operations and areas.
Planning is key, so that you can quickly respond to any potential disease situations.
Remember, your animal health expert is an excellent resource. He or she can help you prepare a response plan and identify the triggers that would set your plan in motion if an outbreak happens on your premises.
These triggers could include a large number of animals showing subtle signs of disease, such as declining production and decreased feed consumption.
Make sure your employees know about your plan and its disease-response procedures. Have current contact information for your animal-health expert and for district, provincial and territorial veterinarians, and post it in places where everyone can find it.
And be sure your response plan includes steps to limit the movement of animals and animal by-products, vehicles, equipment and people.
The final seven biosecurity measures deal with the operational management of your farm. Be sure to plan for the proper handling, temporary storage and disposal of deadstock according to provincial, territorial and municipal guidelines.
Good record-keeping is also essential when it comes to safely managing manure. Keep track of its treatment, sale and movement, as well as where and how it’s ultimately used.
Be sure to follow all regulatory guidelines for manure: removing, handling, storing and disposing of it.
Thorough cleaning is one of the most effective ways to prevent the introduction of disease and pests. Designate areas for cleaning equipment and vehicles that enter and exit your facility.
Set up a schedule to regularly clean all your buildings, and consider using disinfectants. Routinely clean water lines, animal drinkers and feeders.
Make sure regular maintenance is part of your farm’s schedule. This will make it easier to keep facilities, grounds and equipment clean.
Regular visual inspections can help eliminate problems before they happen.
Make sure production inputs such as bedding and feed come from suppliers that follow good manufacturing practices.
Proper storage can help protect feed from wildlife and pests, and protect bedding from contamination.
Evaluate your water supply regularly to ensure it is suitable for animal consumption.
Have an integrated pest control management plan. It is essential for minimizing possible disease introduction.
Cut back overgrown vegetation near animal housing areas.
Check entry points to make sure doors close securely.
Work with pest-control and animal health experts to keep insects and rodents in check, and to discourage birds from nesting in barns.
Finally, work with your staff to develop biosecurity plans. Make sure everyone understands the need for these plans and is trained in biosecurity practices. Visitors should also be made aware of these practices while on your farm.
Biosecurity measures should be part of an overall strategy that’s been developed in close and ongoing consultation with your animal health expert and your staff.
These consultations will help keep everyone on your team up to date on animal health issues—locally, nationally and internationally.
It’s important to keep the lines of communication open, with your neighbours, with industry associations and with animal-health experts.
And schedule regular training sessions to help your employees remain familiar with your biosecurity plan.
Biosecurity is a shared responsibility. We all have a role to play. That includes the livestock and poultry industries, animal health experts, government agencies and the Canadian public.
You can do your part no matter what kind of farm you have, or how big or small it is.
Control access to your farm and the movement of your animals.
Keep a close eye on your animals for early signs of disease, including changes in behaviour and appearance. Contact your animal health expert when the health of any animal is in question.
And regularly review your operation and your biosecurity measures. And stay up to date on developments in your industry.
For more information on farm-level biosecurity, call the Canadian Food Inspection Agency or visit the CFIA website.

British Columbia Food and Wine Experience

Farmland Defence League in the Gulf Islands - want to be involved?

The Farmland Defence League is a province wide community-based volunteer organization working to protect all farm lands of British Columbia. The supporters and members of the Farmland Defence League come from a wide cross section of the population – agrologists, biologists, environmentalists, farmers, food security advocates. The organization was started by Harold Steves, a long-time Richmond farmer and city councillor, who co-founded the Agricultural Land Reserve in 1972 while he was an NDP MLA. The Farmland Defence League supports the Agricultural Land Commission's mandate to protect the Agricultural Land Reserve, much as the Gulf Islands Alliance supports the Islands Trust mandate to preserve and protect the Gulf Islands.
British Columbia's Land Commission Act came into effect in 1973 to establish a special provincial land use zone in partnership with local governments to protect BC's dwindling supply of agricultural land. This zone is the Agricultural Land Reserve. Boundaries for the ALR were primarily based on capability and suitability of the land and its use. In the Gulf Islands initial zoning was based on aerial photographs of existing farmland. Later on soils throughout the major Gulf Islands were more thoroughly ground truthed and mapped.
Through the years, there have been changes in provincial governments, local governments and amendments to the Act and its regulations. What has not changed has been public support for the Agricultural Land Reserve. In recent years, with increased attention to the importance of local food production for increased food security, the protection of our foodlands in BC has become critical. The Agricultural Land Reserve makes up less than five percent of our land base in BC. In southern BC, where pressures of development and recreation often are the basis of applications to exclude land from the ALR – even in the Gulf Islands - local governments with land use planning responsibilities must step up and work with the Agricultural Land Commission in achieving its mandate.
The recent Food Security Report of the Islands Trust highlights that more needs to be done to protect the Agricultural Land Reserve at the local government level. Although the importance of farmland protection was acknowledged and farmland acquisition by the Trust was encouraged, the report was almost silent on preserving and protecting the Agricultural Land Reserve. The Islands Trust should establish a hard line around the Agricultural Land Reserve to preserve and protect our food growing lands. As precedent, the North Pender Island Official Community Plan states that applications to remove land from the Agricultural Land Reserve will not be accepted. Planners and Trustees need to remember that the Agricultural Land Reserve is a RESERVE, and is food-producing land for future generations. There is no requirement for land to be in current production in order for it to be in the ALR.
It was encouraging to see in the report that Agriculture Advisory Committees were suggested for local Trust areas, and also Trust-wide. Agriculture Advisory Committees with a broad membership from the farm community, with support from provincial agrologists that represent input from the BC Ministry of Agriculture and the Agricultural Land Commission, are a tangible way for governments at all levels to support local food production. The Islands Trust should establish either Trust-wide and/or local Trust area Agricultural Advisory Committees for the farm community to advise Islands Trust on farm issues and initiatives. Salt Spring Island has an Agricultural Advisory Committee, which advises the Local Trust Committee. It is through this committee and local farm organizations that an Area Farm Plan was accomplished on Salt Spring. On Denman Island, recent efforts have been made to work with the farm community. An Agriculture Strategy was recently completed with an agriculture steering committee, that will hopefully become a full Agricultural Advisory Committee. Other islands have Agricultural Advisory Committees in their Official Community Plans but have yet to initiate them. It is hoped that they will do so. It is important as a first step in giving the farm community a voice. The protection of land alone will not assure food security.
The Islands Trust has been helpful in advocating for farmers when the Trust has taken the time to learn the issues and the impacts involved and has listened to farmers ( eg. meat regulations, farm tax assessment review ). Some issues that Gulf Island farmers are currently concerned with are lack of infrastructure (ie processing facilities), resident Canada Geese and deer that eat and damage crops, introduced species that impact agriculture (weeds, predators, competitive species), water resources, ferries (fares,schedules, capacity in peak seasons), ever-changing meat regulations, federal, provincial and local regulations, lack of consultation with farmers, community and local government (planners, elected officials) knowledge of agriculture (or lack of knowledge, to be precise), competing farmland uses (development, parkland, recreational) and the many ways to remove farmland from the ALR (exclusion applications, land swap deals, federal parks). These concerns are in addition to the less than unique concern of farm viability in an urban-focused cheap-food society.
The Islands Trust are viewed by many as leaders in environmental protection. To preserve and protect farmland and to encourage food production on the islands, the Trust needs to dialogue with people who are farming. The Islands Trust also needs to dialogue and work with other government agencies who are there to support farming and farmers. For information on the Farmland Defence League or to volunteer as a director in the Gulf Islands contact Barbara Johnstone Grimmer ( or call 250 629-3817).Our goal is to have at least one director per island.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Rural Blog: Small towns offer free land to boost populations

 Alas, the free land in the article below is in the heartland of the US.  My grandfather came up from the US because he heard Canada had free land back at the turn of the last century.  My mom and dad still live there (but the taxes make it seem anything but free!!).....

The Rural Blog: Small towns offer free land to boost populations

"7 Towns Where Land is Free
As small towns suffer from a continuing flight from rural toward-more urban living, some economic development groups and governments in these troubled areas have chosen to stay and fight.

The Homestead Act of 1862 is no longer in effect, but free land is still available out there in the great wide open (often literally in the great wide open). In fact, the town of Beatrice, Nebraska has even enacted a Homestead Act of 2010 .

As with the homesteaders of the 1800s, the new pioneers must not be the faint of heart—they can’t be the type to shy away from the trials of building a home from the ground up, or the lack of Starbucks on every corner, or unpaved roads (extremely remote location and lack of infrastructure is probably what caused a well-publicized land giveaway in Anderson ,AK to flop). If the Google Maps overhead view of the vast open space surrounding the modest street grids of these towns doesn’t instill cabin fever, then read on—these parcels are up for land grabs. "

By Colleen Kane

Meat: From Range To Market (1955)

Saturday, March 19, 2011

B.C. Muslims run up against slaughterhouse policy | from UBC journalism

B.C. Muslims run up against slaughterhouse policy | from UBC journalism

B.C. Muslims run up against slaughterhouse policy

By Farida Hussain

A professional slaughterer guides a ritual sacrifice on Eid ul Adha
The crisp morning air smelled of blood and livestock as a group of Muslims arrived at a Pitt Meadows slaughterhouse to perform a ritual sacrifice on Eid ul-Adha, a key Islamic holiday.
“The first drop of blood spilled will absolve you of your sins,” said Sheikh Qaidjoher Mufaddal Diwan, one of the group members.
He had come prepared to slaughter a goat with his own hands, a practise allowed by the law and in accordance with the beliefs of the Bohra Muslim community
Judaic and Islamic ritual sacrifice are exempt from Canadian regulations that say a food animal should be stunned before slaughter to avoid undue suffering.
But the law provides some leeway to each federally-approved abattoir to decide how to implement the law, based on the policy of preventing unnecessary distress to the animal.
The Meadow Valley Meats slaughterhouse enforces a policy that the animal must be either stunned, or restrained or both, if a non-professional slaughterer is making the kill, putting it at odds with the Bohra
Listen: Slaughterhouse staff on stunning policy

Slaughterhouse officials told the Bohras that the animal must be stunned if they wanted to carry out the sacrifice themselves. They could alternatively let a professional carry out the ritual if they wanted the goat to be conscious at the time of slaughter.
Muslims prefer that the animal is conscious at the time of sacrifice for a number of reasons, and the Bohra emphasize the sanctity of doing it with their own hands.
Related: Guidelines for Islamic animal sacrifice
As a compromise, a slaughterhouse professional guided the hand of the Bohra as he carried out his sacrifice. Together they cut the goat’s neck in an act that satisfied statute, stomach and soul.
“The idea is to do it as humanely as possible, that’s why we use one quick stroke to the jugular vein and it’s over,” said Ahmed Medina, whose hand was guided by a professional as he sacrificed a goat.
Slaughterhouse rules

The captive bolt pistol is commonly used to stun before slaughter
Meadow Valley Meats is the only meat company in B.C. that practices Islamic slaughter as per the community’s halal directives. Their abattoir receives orders from vendors across the province.
A majority of Muslims in Vancouver simply pay a halal meat shop money to have someone else slaughter the goat on their behalf.
Ibrahim Kandawala is one such vendor. He accepts and relays orders for goat sacrifice at Zabiha Foods, a halal meat-shop, in Surrey. His business increased by 10  to 15 per cent this year.
The increasing business reflects a growing Muslim population over the past 30 years.
The number of Muslims in B.C. has risen from 10,000 in 1980 to more than 75,000, according to the BC Muslim Association.
Statistics Canada expects the Muslim population of B.C. to double by 2017
The growing Muslim population and subsequent lack of facilities has posed hardships for some.
Two years ago, Murtaza Ali, a Bohra Muslim, had to forgo his sacrifice because there was not enough time to carry out all the sacrifices as well as the regular abattoir business.
“It was not at all convenient, the whole matter was out of my hands. I had to put it off,” said Ali.
Need for compromise

It is customary to feed the animal before slaughtering it
Representatives of the Muslim community say it is time for businesses to take account of the changing nature of B.C.’s population.
“The slaughterhouse is too far, and they are unable to accommodate so many customers,” Diwan wrote in an email. “We have to do the zabihat [sacrifice] before zaval, [midday] which becomes very difficult.”
The sheikh said that Muslims do not follow all their practices here in B.C. because there is not enough time, there are not enough provisions, and the slaughterhouses have their own rules.
For example, he said he was uncomfortable cutting the goat in the metal restraining brace provided by the abattoir.
“The head was just hanging down like that,” said Diwan.
There are Islamic guidelines to minimize discomfort to the animal, he added. The animal should be laid on a bed of mud on the right-hand side of the slaughterer, he said.
Diwan suggested that the federal government fund research on Islamic law-based animal slaughtering to improve facilities for Muslims and Canadians alike.
He said his community’s motives are in line with the federal policy for safety and hygiene.
“We can come up with a practice where nobody needs to compromise,” said Diwan.

Free-Range Egg Ban Shuts Bed and Breakfast: CBC News March 18 2011

Free-range egg ban shuts bed and breakfast

Posted: Mar 18, 2011 8:58 AM AT

Last Updated: Mar 18, 2011 10:14 AM AT

Paul Offer gather eggs from his 75 hens twice a day, but he won't be able to serve them at his bed and breakfast any longer.Paul Offer gather eggs from his 75 hens twice a day, but he won't be able to serve them at his bed and breakfast any longer. CBC
A P.E.I. bed and breakfast that has been operating for decades has decided to close down next year rather than stop serving eggs from its own hens because of a government order.
The Doctor's Inn in Tyne Valley, northwest of Summerside, also operates an organic farm. Paul and Jean Offer sell their organic vegetables and free-range eggs at the Charlottetown Farmers Market, and offer the produce to customers at the Doctor's Inn at breakfast and dinner time.
But after years of serving their own eggs, the provincial Department of Health has told them they have to stop. The department said it's a long-standing policy that food service operations can only use federally inspected eggs.
The idea of having to buy eggs from the supermarket, rather than use their own from the 75 hens in the coop out back, was too much for the Offers. They will operate this season, and then close the business down.
"When the Department of Health came around and said, 'No, you're not allowed to use your own eggs, you have to use store bought ones, or inspected ones,' we just turned around," said Paul Offer.
'Why take the chance when you have the ability to purchase a product from a government-approved source?'— Joe Bradley, Department of Health
"Jean and I are getting older, we just looked at one another and said, 'OK, that's it, we're out of business.'"
Joe Bradley, manager of environmental health for the Department of Health, said the main issue with eggs that aren't federally inspected is the risk of salmonella contamination.
"The problem is that there's the potential for handling a contaminated product," said Bradley.
"You contaminate your hands, and the hands aren't washed. A food preparation surface may be contaminated."

No crackdown

Bradley said the rule has been the same for close to 20 years, and there's no crackdown.
The ban on free-range eggs has been in place for close to 20 years, says the Department of Health.The ban on free-range eggs has been in place for close to 20 years, says the Department of Health. CBC But the Doctor's Inn is not the only well-established business to recently learn of this rule. Six weeks ago, the By the River Bakery and Café in Hunter River was told it had to stop using free-range, uninspected eggs.
"Our work is always prevention," said Bradley.
"Why take the chance when you have the ability to purchase a product from a government-approved source?"
Offer said he inspects all his eggs and believes they are safe. He and his wife Jean eat the eggs, and have never been sick. He has never had a complaint in many years of selling them at the Charlottetown Farmers Market.
And, in his opinion, they taste better too.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The commute from the Gulf Islands

You can always take a ferry......
...or you can take a sea-plane....... might even see a ferry from your sea-plane....
....but it's always beautiful no matter how you go......

What's in a Name? Why "Agriculture" is a dirty word at universities

So what is the relationship between the declining enrollment in agriculture faculties around North America, and the trend in dropping the word "agriculture" in many universities?  I think there is a direct relationship. My own alma mater, the University of British Columbia, did this a few years back, taking up the moniker "Land and Food Systems" instead. I was not impressed. Of course, the dean was a landscape architect so what could I expect. And BC is not a major agriculture province, with only 5% of the land base in the provincially zoned Agriculture Land Reserve. (But wouldn't that make agriculture even more important?)
But at least the degree, a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture, or B.Sc (Agr) was left intact.
But, no. There was still an increased decline in interest in the agriculture/agroecology portion of the program. So out went the B.Sc.(Agr) and in came applied biology.
I think any student serious about studying agriculture probably headed to one of the prairie universities, or perhaps good old University of Guelph in Ontario.
Some universities who debated the name change, the declining enrollment, and held off on making that big change are thankful they didn't. In Nebraska, the name Agriculture was held onto proudly. The result? Enrollment is at an all time high. A 25% increase in proud-to-be-Agriculture students from 2000 to 20009.
When I attended UBC back in 1977 to 1981, we were all proud to be Aggies in our blue and yellow sweaters. We knew what was important, even back then. I remember the Dean coming back from meetings with the head of the University, worrying about our small but vital faculty. Once I left for graduate school, on the advice of my UBC profs, I heard about faculties losing positions to attrition. As profs retired, positions folded, eventually faculties folded. I was in the Department of Poultry Science, one of the first to fold into the Animal Science Department. The last professor hired when I was in my third or fourth year, Dr. Kim Cheng, is the only remaining Poultry professor left. I am sure, with all of the advances made in Poultry Science in the years leading up to the Poultry Dept.'s slow death, there were decision makers who probably thought everything that we needed to know about poultry production was already known, all the discoveries already discovered.....
Ok, let's fast forward to avian flu. To demands for cage-free systems that require more research in animal welfare to ensure poultry management recommendations are based on good research. To demands for feed systems that meet new feed regulations. Who is doing that? Is the university teaching that?
Or is it appealing to a market-based, student-as-consumer program, instead of the student being the product of the educational system.
This week I am going back to UBC as a mentor in the "Beyond the BSc" program - what should I tell them?? Stay tuned.........

CBC Commentary -

What’s in a name?

By Dave Schmidt
November 16, 2009
Food is a hot topic but agriculture, it seems, is not.
After decades of declining enrolment, the agriculture department at the University of British Columbia came up with an inspired solution: Stop using the word agriculture.
So down came the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences signs and up went ones reading Land and Food Systems. Ten years later, the department has 1,180 students – the third largest number in the country, even though its staff of 42 makes it the smallest of Canada’s eight ag faculties.
Food has proven popular, with most students enrolling in the Food Nutrition and Health program. Global Resource Systems also seems to resonate with potential students. But UBC’s third program – Agroecology – is a bust, having lost 90 per cent of its enrolment in the past six years.
Anything labeled ‘agri’ just isn’t seen as a good career path, says Art Bomke, one of the Agroecology professors.
Name game
So this summer, UBC sign-makers were busy again – taking down Agroecology signs and putting up Applied Biology ones. The switch came too late to make an impact on this year’s freshman class numbers but the university plans to market the renamed program heavily and expects enrollment to rebound.
While agriculture is not sexy, food and farming is. At the same time as switching its name to Land & Food Systems, UBC students revived its derelict farm at the south end of the sprawling campus and turned it into an urbanite’s version of farming: chickens scratching in the ground, small vegetable gardens, a few bees and a lot of trees. Now grown to 12-hectares, the Farm attracts 20,000 visitors a year, including 2,000 students involved in the 35 research projects and 50 courses connected to it. The Farm produces 200 different crops and Saturday market days attract as many as 700 people.
So what does all this tell us?
Well, urban people obviously are eager to spend time on a farm and they love local food. They’re even willing to get their hands in the dirt for a few minutes every week. But take agriculture seriously enough to make it a career? Not a chance!
For CBC commentary, I'm Dave Schmidt, a freelance agriculture writer in Chilliwack, B.C.

And another take on the issue from the US....

Agriculture is not a dirty word

This essay, written by Dr. Allen Levine, (pictured at left) dean of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource Sciences, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, Minn., is reprinted from the May 28, 2009 issue of Science Magazine online version.

Agricultural science is ripe for a Renaissance. For too many years, the agriculture sciences have been disparaged in the science and education communities, perhaps because agronomy, soil science, plant pathology, and animal science use a problem-solving approach rather than simply seeking knowledge.

When science research funds are handed out—for example, in the federal stimulus bill—agriculture often gets left off the list. I suspect this is because policy-makers and some scientists see “agriculture” as synonymous with “agribusiness,” rather than as a purely scientific discipline, and they assume private funding will take care of agriculture-related research needs. Agricultural scientists at land-grant institutions do receive some research dollars from noncompetitive sources, but not all research is funded this way.

Adding insult to injury, the major U.S. science journals don’t devote specific sections or editors to agricultural research. Some schools of agriculture have taken the word “agriculture” out of their names, presumably to attract more students in a country where only 2% of the population farms. (It hasn’t worked: Enrollment in university agricultural science majors has dropped steadily nationwide since the early 1980s.)

In short, agricultural science has an image problem. Our disciplines are not considered relevant and, more disturbing, we’re not seen as a source of solutions to many of the world’s most pressing challenges, even though many of those challenges directly relate to agricultural science. That’s unfortunate, particularly in a world where people are starving or eating unsafe food, where climate change will affect every aspect of 21st-century life, and where new kinds of sustainable fuel are needed.

The urgency of these global issues—all of them related to the agricultural sciences—amplifies the need for an applied-science approach. Agricultural scientists can do amazing things when they combine their expertise and have access to the resources they need. Recently, scientists at an international conference in Mexico announced that they have found a wheat variety that is resistant to Ug99—a strain of stem rust that could affect up to 90% of the world’s wheat. Although the scientists have not completely eliminated the threat, it’s clearly a breakthrough with enormous implications.

Other recent signs also point to a renewed interest in and respect for agriculture. When the first lady plants a vegetable garden on the White House lawn for the first time in half a century, she’s sending a strong message: Food is important. Books about eating a sustainable, healthy diet top our best-seller lists. The National Gardening Association expects a 19% jump in the number of people growing at least some of their own food this year. Clearly, a growing number of Americans are interested in where their food comes from, even on a small scale.

The 2008 Farm Bill creates the National Institute for Food and Agriculture, which will be headed by a distinguished scientist directly appointed by the president. A small thing, perhaps, but it elevates agriculture to a level of prominence along the lines of health and other sciences. The farm bill also increases funding for competitive grants in both basic and applied agricultural research, which will provide opportunities for advanced study.

Enrollment is up 16% since 2005 among college students in the professional associations that specialize in soil and crop sciences and agronomy, which suggests that today’s students are interested in learning more about agricultural and environmental issues. Job prospects also are good; the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that employment for agricultural and food scientists will be at least average overall and much higher than average in some specialties.

In the long run, does it really matter whether “agricultural scientists” are what we call the people who ensure a safe and plentiful food supply, clean water, and healthy soil? Maybe not, as long as this critical work is funded and accomplished. But as we move into a new era of shared accountability and responsibility, let’s keep in mind that agricultural sciences affect us all, and when agricultural science is thriving, our communities likely are thriving, too.

Contact information:
Allen S. Levine, College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource Sciences, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN 55108–6074, USA, and Minnesota Obesity Center, Minneapolis VA Medical Center, Minneapolis, MN 55417, USA, e-mail:

Monday, March 7, 2011

Saving the Southlands

Alberta and BC Surface Rights Group - Advocating for the future of Alberta and BC's land and water.

lVancouver Sun article

Alberta Surface Rights Group - Advocating for the future of Alberta's land and water.

Peace Environment and Safety Trustees (PEST - of course!)

GASLAND a documentary about natural gas hydraulic fracturing

Watched this last night - the method of hydraulic fracturing is used to extract natural gas, but the chemicals used also contaminate the groundwater, and the natural gas enters the water as well.  The film is based on what is happening in the US, but what are the implications in Canada?  I have a bright red set of Halliburton coveralls from my first husband who worked for a lot of these companies in the US as a nitrogen operator.  He pumped nitrogen down oil and gas wells before they were capped off - I don't remember hearing anything about the fracturing process or if that was part of his work.  I love the coveralls for working on the farm in the winter, but now I am debating taking the "Halliburton" label off!!
Hydraulic fracturing is used in the Peace River area of BC - probably using the same methods - note that a byproduct is sand
Note that on the BC Ministry of Agriculture website (see bottom left corner) there is a farmer advocacy office - that originally got me excited until I found out it was linked to a company set up to get farmers to sign up with the oil and gas companies!!!

Hydro-fracturing has a lucrative dirty secret | Vancouver, Canada |

Hydro-fracturing has a lucrative dirty secret | Vancouver, Canada |

The B.C. government isn’t asking many questions about a natural-gas-drilling technique involving toxic compounds.

By Chris Wood,

Colin Smith
Biologist Jessica Ernst says that after gas wells were “fracked” near her Alberta home, gas came out of her tap water—so much so that she could light it on fire.
Gwen Johansson lives in what used to be idyllic surroundings a few kilometres west of Fort St. John in B.C.’s northeast. Lately, though, the tranquillity of her home overlooking the placid Peace River has been shattered by an intrusive flow of traffic. Often operating around the clock, heavy-bodied tanker trucks pull off Highway 29 and line up at the riverbank to drop in thick hoses and gun high-volume pumps that suck up thousands of litres of water in just a few minutes. “They’re hauling out of there day and night,” Johansson told the Georgia Straight by phone, “one loading, two more waiting. You can see the amount of water that’s going out.”
You may be able to see it, but you can’t measure it. No public agency requires the truckers or their employers to keep a tally of the water they extract from the Peace and other streams for delivery to the scores of gas wells being drilled at any one time in the area. Estimates based on Peace drilling activity, however, suggest that the giant sucking sound could reach as high as 135 billion litres a year. That’s enough water to fill a line of tanker trucks parked bumper to bumper around the equator—five abreast.
You’re also not allowed to know what gets mixed in with the river water before it’s injected into the ground under staggering pressure in order to fracture solid rock and release the hydrocarbons trapped there. Drilling contractors insist the mixes they use are trade secrets. The Oil and Gas Commission, British Columbia’s decade-old one-stop shop for gas and oil oversight, isn’t curious. “The question I ask in reverse,” said the OGC’s leader for corporate affairs, Steve Simons, in his Victoria digs—the temple to sustainable building, Dockside Green—“is why? Why is it important to know?”
Well, perhaps because the chemicals the same international gas-field contractors have injected in the United States and elsewhere in Canada using the same fracturing technique have been linked to a string of contaminations—culminating in events as bizarre as a house explosion in Ohio and the flammable water that flows from faucets in the high-prairie hamlet of Rosebud, Alberta.
Or perhaps because boosters claim that companies pursuing the high-pressure penetration of holes in the earth known as “hydro-fracturing”—or more often simply as “fracking”—will pour close to a billion dollars a year into provincial coffers over the next quarter-century and boost our gross provincial product over the same period by $121 billion. Although all that coin certainly makes a nice sound, when someone is spending that much money on you, it’s also wise to know what they expect once the lights are turned low.
But this is not a love story. It’s a story about power, both the raw and naked kind, and the subtler sort of influence that plays the instruments of public policy. It’s the story of how British Columbia’s water is being well and truly fracked over on the way to igniting the continent’s hottest gas play—and helping businesses like Exxon and Calgary-based EnCana Corporation reposition themselves for the inevitable economic rebound as vendors of a new kind of “green” hydrocarbon.
“Clean”, “clean burning”, “clean energy”, “the cleanest-burning fossil fuel”… Such boasts leap routinely from Web sites and promotional material produced by major gas companies. The claims are based on the fact that burning natural gas, typically a mixture of methane, ethane, propane, and other volatile molecules, produces fewer greenhouse gases than burning coal or oil. And recently, with an incipient economic recovery poised to send subdued gas prices soaring, the industry has been steadily revising its reserve estimates upward based on what it maintains are new and innovative techniques to unlock previously inaccessible deposits. Horizontal drilling and hydro-fracturing, drillers say, have pushed estimates of recoverable gas reserves in North America to record highs (in part explaining the current dip in gas prices). Global adoption of the same techniques, said Houston industry watcher Amy Myers Jaffe of Rice University in an October 2009 article in the New York Times, “will change the geopolitics of natural gas”.
Sideways holes and fast fracking have certainly buffed the geoeconomics of British Columbia. Hydrocarbon-bearing shale deposits in the Horn River and Montney areas of the province’s northeast are widely touted as North America’s most promising gas plays, bigger even than the Barnett Shale, a heavily developed zone underlying east Texas. A July 2009 analysis by the Calgary-based and industry-funded Canadian Energy Research Institute produced the eye-popping forecast that gas development in the Peace country would generate 847,000 person-years of employment over the next 25 years—the equivalent of about 34,000 permanent jobs.
That the practices behind this bonanza are either new or clean, however, is a stretch. Hydro-fracturing dates back to the years immediately after the Second World War, when a then-modest oil-field-service company named Halliburton (yup, that Halliburton) acquired a proprietary technique for pumping water mixed with jellied gasoline—aka napalm—at horrendous pressure into oil wells. The injections loosened sticky crude from surrounding rock and increased the amount that could be recovered. Soon, hydro-fracturing became one of the company’s biggest revenue earners.
Modern hydro-fracturing has evolved, but continues to rely on a combination of brute force and chemistry. Multiple high-pressure pumps force vast quantities (as much as 10 million to 15 million litres at a time) of water-based fracking liquid into gas-bearing rock with the intent of shattering it like a piece of plate glass dropped on cement. Additives in the fracking liquid may include solvents, acids, detergents, and even diesel and kerosene. This then serves to dislodge gas molecules from the broken rock, while sand or glass pellets (“proppants”, in the jargon) keep the newly created fissures open, allowing the freed gas to migrate to a recovery well.
The more recent development of horizontal drilling—boreholes that start out going straight down but are made to turn and extend out horizontally for thousands of metres—has simply allowed rigs located on a single pad at the surface to reach much farther and wider underground than ever before. In the Peace, a single pad may be the starting point for a dozen holes that radiate out below ground to tap into several square kilometres of buried shale. Each hole will typically be “fracked” a dozen times, some more than twice as often. Field operators in the Peace have told area citizens that a typical frack there takes 2,000 cubic metres of water to complete. That’s roughly 110 tanker hauls.
Gas companies like EnCana point out that additives make up only about one percent of the volume injected. But if you do the math, that’s still 20,000 litres of concentrated chemicals per frack. What’s in the cocktail is a secret, kept closely guarded by Halliburton, Schlumberger, and other well-service companies. A B.C. Energy, Mines, and Petroleum Resources Web site offers this comforting but naive description of what’s being pumped down: “The fluids used are generally biodegradable organic materials, a mixture of nitrogen and water to create thick foam—simply water with a small amount of biodegradable gel.”
But frack fluids used here are the same ones used everywhere else in North America. Chemical detective work by several U.S. environmental groups has identified at least some common ingredients. One analysis circulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that among the many toxic compounds blended into fracking foams and gels were benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, naphthalene, xylene, and 2-butoxyethanol; several were found to exceed U.S. safe drinking water standards even in diluted use. Another group, the Endocrine Disruption Exchange, analyzed the “material safety data sheets” about the compounds that are posted at most job sites and found that “ninety-six percent provide a warning about eye and/or skin harm, 94 percent warn about respiratory harm, and 49 percent warn about brain or neurological harm.”
Most big fracking outfits in the States agreed voluntarily in 2003 to drop one prominent source of benzene and naphthalene from their mixes—common diesel oil—while making no concession that its use was unsafe. When asked if diesel could be in the B.C. mix, the OGC’s Simons replied, “It could be. We don’t require them to give us a stock list, x percent of this and x percent of that and y of the third ingredient. The protection is in not allowing that water to reach the environment. We closely monitor the [aboveground] handling at all stages.” Aboveground, frack fluids get the full hazmat treatment. As for what’s pumped down the hole, the OGC’s position is that what’s deep out of sight is safely out of mind.
In that, the British Columbia regulator is in step with most of its North American counterparts. Only a handful of U.S. states require drillers to disclose their fracking formulas. Things got even better for the industry in 2001. Halliburton’s former CEO, Dick Cheney, was vice president of the United States and tasked with writing a new energy policy. In the interest of boosting domestic gas production, it granted the fracking business an unprecedented blanket immunity from provisions of the U.S. Clean Water Act. Again, the rationale was that what happens to nasty gunk thousands of feet underground shouldn’t worry us none up here in the daylight.
Flaws in that complacent argument surfaced almost immediately, often literally bubbling up from the ground. Another EPA study, released only after the Cheney-Bush administration left office, linked fracking to the contamination of scores of water wells in rural Wyoming. Of particular concern was the detected presence in several of 2-butoxyethanol, a fracking compound associated with kidney damage and reproductive problems. In Ohio, fire investigators blamed a 2007 explosion that levelled a family home (happily, without fatalities) on gases released from shale seams fracked too close to the surface. In September 2009, wildlife officials identified waste fracking fluid as the likely cause of a fish kill that sterilized 30 miles of a Pennsylvania creek, exterminating 160 species of fish, salamanders, crawfish, and freshwater mussels.
Jessica Ernst, a biologist and environmental consultant to the oil and gas industry in Alberta, has firsthand experience of what happens when fracking products don’t stay safely underground. After EnCana drilled and fracked several experimental gas wells in the coulees above her home east of Calgary, Ernst said in a phone interview, “I began to notice that my skin was burning in the shower. I thought it was some weird early menopause thing. Then my dogs suddenly refused to drink the water. They backed up away from it.”
Tests discovered sky-high levels of methane and ethane in Ernst’s tap water and kerosene in the municipal well serving her hamlet of Rosebud. On some days, so much gas bubbled out of Ernst’s tap water that she could (and for demonstration purposes often did, until the risks began to alarm her) set the flaring gas alight.
It should come as no surprise that a hard fracking could open up unforeseen conduits for hydrocarbons and fracking fluid itself to migrate to the surface. Opening channels for the movement of gas and liquids is, after all, the point of the exercise. “The idea is that it expands existing fractures and opens up new ones,” Diana Allen, a ground-water scientist at Simon Fraser University, told the Straight. “If you enhance the permeability of the rock mass—which is the purpose of hydro-fracking—you create pathways, so that if you put something into the ground, it’s going to go somewhere else.”
Still, the OGC’s Simons said British Columbians need not fear a repeat of the unpleasantness associated with fracking in other places: “We’ve had the benefit of learning from other jurisdictions. We’re light-years ahead of other regulators, in the North American context.”
That leading position may depend on your perspective. Certainly, the provincial commission created in 1998 to take over oil- and gas-patch oversight previously conducted by a half-dozen provincial ministries, ranging from Environment to Multiculturalism (functions still divided among numerous agencies in most U.S. states), offers convenience to the industry. Rules require drill holes be lined with steel and cement at least 25 metres into impermeable rock below any known aquifers, Simons noted, a measure he insisted adequately prevents the inadvertent release of fracking fluid. The OGC, he added, can deny or revoke permits allowing contractors to pump water from lakes and streams if the withdrawal would harm the environment.
But universal experience suggests that Murphy’s Law sooner or later trumps those that legislators enact. And B.C.’s “light-years ahead” regulator has some catching up to do with the state of the art in responsive measures to protect the public interest:
• Ten U.S. states now require frackers to disclose, at least to officials, exactly what it is they’re injecting into the ground. The idea is to make it easier to prove—or disprove—any alleged link between a specific frack and subsequent water contamination.
• After the events in Rosebud, Alberta prohibited fracking at depths shallower than 200 metres. B.C. is inching toward a similar prohibition, although SFU’s Allen objected that no single measure can adequately protect B.C.’s poorly understood aquifers or the significant number of water wells deeper than the proposed safety zone. By contrast, the state of Virginia banned fracks at depths of less than 152 metres below the lowest point of elevation or the deepest water well located within 457 metres of a gas well.
• Alberta also gives the owner of any water well exposed to proposed fracking the right to have water from the well tested at the expense of the gas company before development occurs. Without such a baseline test, any later allegation blaming loss of a well’s flow or its contamination on overly energetic fracking will come down to a “he said, she said” standoff, Simons said. Yet British Columbians are entitled to no such predevelopment test and may even find tests they pay for themselves disqualified on technical grounds.
The Oil and Gas Commission’s makeup and funding offer little reassurance on its loyalties. Fees levied on the industry it polices, $27 million in the past fiscal year, fund its 185 staff salaries and pay the rent on its ergonomic office space in Victoria. Membership on its board of directors is limited to three people: the deputy minister of Energy, Mines, and Petroleum Resources; the commission’s CEO, Alex Ferguson; and a retired oil-and-gas driller named John Jacobsen.
Asked if this was like letting the fox into the hen house, Simons said: “That’s an image we’ve worked hard at overcoming.”
Maybe not hard enough. “The OGC has a very real interest in getting the oil and gas out of the ground,” observed the Peace District’s Gwen Johansson. “Oil and gas are nice, but water is essential, and they’re not keeping track of it.”
That’s Rick Koechl’s concern too. The Fort St. John teacher has taken on the task of educating himself and his neighbours about what the gas boom in the northeast may mean for its water.
Koechl says his “awareness moment” came in the spring of 2009. Through membership in a local volunteer group, he was present when a fellow from Schlumberger, one of the big field-service outfits, explained fracking. As Koechl contemplated the volumes of water being described, “my jaw started to drop. It would have to be a four-lane highway to the Horn River and it would be wall-to-wall water trucks, 24-7. Clearly, there is not enough water in the river.”
But then, who’s counting? from Colin Hanson
Province of BC announces oil and gas week
North Peace Economic Development - oil and gas

following is a letter from a Canadian affected by these activities:

Jessica Ernst Submission to the Standing Committee on Natural Resources

Jessica Ernst
Box 753 Rosebud, AB T0J 2T0

November 17, 2010

Standing Committee on Natural Resources
Sixth Floor, 131 Queen Street
House of Commons
Ottawa ON K1A 0A6 Canada
Sent by E-Mail to:

Dear Chair, Standing Committee on Natural Resources,

I testified to the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development in 2007 about my community's drinking water contamination after EnCana hydraulically fractured our fresh water aquifers even though the company promised never to do such a dreadful thing.  Nothing improved to protect Canada's water.  In fact, things got worse.  Governments gave more incentives and deregulation to enable hydraulic fracturing; more deregulation is reportedly coming. This is appalling because our governments, regulators and industry know of the many cases of drinking water contamination that have occurred after drilling and fracturing across North America.

Energy Security means nothing to Canadians if we don't have safe water.

Now EnCana wants to do deviated drilling under my little piece of land, even though my water is already too dangerous to live with.  EnCana wrote me that deviated drilling does not increase risk of gas leakage but our energy regulator admits that deviated drilling is a factor of major impact for gas leakage (

EnCana plans to inject acid gas under my land but will not tell me what acid gas or why or what protections I will be provided if something goes wrong.  The company refuses to give me a copy of their liability insurance.  My community's water is already a ticking time bomb; one water tower already blew up. The energy regulator approved EnCana's application in a day.

Is that energy security?

Companies promise that they never fracture into drinking water aquifers; EnCana's activities in my community prove this promise false.  Companies promise there has never been a proven case of water contamination by fracturing; the regulator in PA reported that hydraulic fracturing caused gas migration into water.  Companies promised not to inject diesel into drinking water aquifers when they fracture; they recently admitted to Congress they did anyways.

EnCana refuses to provide the list of chemicals the company used in my community even though the regulator found evidence in our water of petroleum distillates and other toxic man made chemicals used in drilling and fracturing.  EnCana's website states that it supports chemical disclosure but when asked to do what the company says, the company doesn't.  I asked EnCana to provide a copy of their submission to Congress investigating EnCana's hydraulic fracturing activities, and all allegations of water contamination by the company (see first PDF attached).  EnCana refused.

What energy security do Canadians have when companies fracturing with hazardous chemicals terrorize landowners and communities, lie, withhold vital information, and refuse to take responsibility for bad operations and experiments gone wrong?

Researchers and regulators report problems with hydraulic fracturing and industry admits that they don't know what shallow or deep fractures do, but the relentless and risky hydraulic fracturing and water contamination continues. That is not energy security.

I thank you for reading me out and carefully considering the documents I researched and compiled for you.


Jessica Ernst

1.  Congress investigating Fracturing companies, including two Canadian firms (article included below)

2.  Fracturing companies state to Congress that they do not know if they are fracturing in drinking water (article included below).

3.  Congress Hydraulic Fracturing Smackdown (article included below).

4.  First PDF attached:  Congress investigating Oil and Gas companies because fracturing companies do not know if they are fracturing into drinking water.   Congress letter to EnCana and other companies from:

5.  Second PDF attached: EPA investigating fracturing companies and asking excellent questions.  When the EPA first sent out their letter, it was available on the internet.  I attached the PDF because the link is no longer working:

5. b) Article on how the EPA subpoenas Halliburton because the company refused to cooperate with the hydraulic fracturing investigation.

5. c)  Halliburton responds to subpoena by disclosing some chemical information.

6. Third PDF attached:  Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board 2006 Shallow Fracturing Directive 027 (after the spying scandal where the regulator was caught red handed spying on Alberta Landowners, the government changed their name.  It used to be Energy Utilities Board).   I was unable to find a URL for the original 2006 Directive - there are versions after this 2006 version, they increased protective depth another 25m in 2009. I spent hours trying to find the original on the internet and ERCB website, was unsuccessful (they likely removed it, because of the quote below).  I saved the attached original 2006 version when the directive came out in 2006 (I save such files, because the most damning do not last long on the internet):

quote from this directive:  Information provided by industry to date shows that there may not always be a complete understanding of fracture propagation at shallow depths and that programs are not always subject to rigorous engineering design.
7.  British Columbia Oil and Gas Commission 2010-03 Safety Advisory on Hydraulic Fracturing at
quote from this advisory:  Fracture propagation via large scale hydraulic fracturing operations has proven difficult to predict.  Existing planes of weakness in target formations may result in fracture lengths that exceed initial design expectations.
8. Peer reviewed publication by Dr. Theo Colburn on public health impacts from oil and gas drilling and fracturing chemicals.  A very important finding in this paper is that drilling chemicals are more toxic than fracturing chemicals and that industry and the regulators kept this from landowners and the public.

Frack Attack.  New, dirty gas drilling method threatens drinking water.

     Fracking:  Natural gas affects water quality.

    Sixty Lame Minutes

1. Congressional committee includes two Canadian firms in its investigation of controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing


Globe and Mail Update Published on Sunday, Feb. 21, 2010 7:51PM EST Last updated on Sunday, Feb. 21, 2010 7:53PM EST

North American drilling companies' methods are facing growing scrutiny that may curtail their efforts to tap a key U.S. source of natural gas.

In the latest signal of the increasing public and political concern over the drilling, a U.S. congressional committee is investigating drilling firms, including two Calgary companies, over concerns that their drilling for shale gas deposits may be contaminating water supplies.

Calfrac Well Services Ltd. () and Sanjel Corp. have received letters from the House committee on energy and commerce, requesting information on all wells they've drilled over the past four years using a method known as hydraulic fracturing - including proximity to ground water sources and the chemicals used in the process.

The congressional investigation is part of a growing controversy in the U.S. over the practice of hydraulic fracturing, which injects solvents into gas-bearing geologic structures to break open the rock and release the hydrocarbons. The technique is key to the commercial development of North American shale gas deposits, an immense resource that has transformed the continent's energy picture.

The oil and gas industry warns that unwarranted regulatory burdens could slow the development of the strategic resource. And it insists that there is no threat to drinking water from the drilling practice - solvents are injected thousands of metres below any drinking water sources.

However, New York state, which sits atop stretches of the immense Marcellus shale gas deposit, has imposed a moratorium on drilling until it ensures the development won't threaten water sources.

There is also a push in Washington to increase federal regulation of the industry.

In Canada, provinces regulate the drilling industry. The B.C. government has raised questions about waste water treatment from deep drilling in the Montney and Horn River gas basins in the rugged northeastern part of the province, but there has been little public debate.

Calfrac received its letter late last week, but Tom Medvedic, its senior vice-president for corporate development, said the company could not comment until it had more fully reviewed it.

"At this stage, we're not really in a position to provide any comment ... There is a lot of information that is being requested," Mr. Medvedic said.

"The fracturing process has been around for decades and, in that context, we certainly haven't been presented with any challenges like are now being projected."

Officials with Sanjel, a privately owned, Alberta-based company, could not be reached for comment.

The investigation is being conducted by the House subcommittee on energy and environment, amid growing calls for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to regulate the drilling industry. The subcommittee is chaired by Massachusetts Democrat Edward Markey, who is acting with Henry Waxman, the California Democrat who heads the full House energy and commerce committee.

In addition to Calfrac and Sanjel, the committee requested documentation from Halliburton Co., BJ Services Co., Schlumberger Ltd., Frac Tech Services Ltd., Superior Well Services Inc., and Universal Well Services Inc.

In a memorandum explaining their action, Mr. Markey and Mr. Waxman said the development of shale gas is "one of the most promising trends in U.S. energy supplies," with the potential to meet American gas demand for decades.

"But as the use of these [drilling] technologies expands, there needs to be oversight to ensure that their use does not threaten the public health of nearby communities," they said.

The congressmen said Halliburton, BJ and Schlumberger had agreed with the EPA to end the use of diesel and other highly toxic chemicals in their hydraulic fracturing, but that Halliburton and BJ had continued to use diesel.

The oil and gas industry argues state regulators are already providing that oversight, and worry that excessive federal regulation could discourage investment in the new energy source.

"Hydraulic fracturing is a safe technology critical to developing the nation's vast natural gas reserves," the American Petroleum Institute said in a release.

"It has been used for more than 60 years in more than one million U.S. wells without a single confirmed instance of groundwater contamination."

The environmental controversy could delay development of the Marcellus reservoir, said Bill Gwozd, vice-president of gas services for Ziff Energy Group in Calgary.

There are some 65 rigs operating in Pennsylvania - most of them doing horizontal drilling required for shale gas plays - and none at work across the state line in New York.

In addition to raising concerns about waste water treatment, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell has proposed a 5-per-cent tax on all gas produced in the state, a measure that the industry says could seriously undermine the economics of the shale gas development.

"The goose with the golden egg story pops up here," Mr. Gwozd said.

"Operations-type limitations include perceived and real environmental issues ... although getting the facts on the table would be a huge first step."