Yesterday I had an active day on Twitter and in reviewing some of the comments the threads attracted, I can see that the limitations of Twitter left out many of the nuances of my tweets. First off, Terry Daynard and I have known each other personally for almost 30 years. I’ve sat at his kitchen table discussing issues on more than one occasion. I’ve also known most of the staff at Farm and Food Care since our university days. Nothing I tweeted yesterday should have been interpreted as an ad hominem attack.
What initiated my tweeting was Terry’s piece on neonicotinoids in the National Post as part of their “Junk Science” week. While I’m not convinced that neonics are directly responsible for CCD, I’m not ready to dismiss the possibility that they are a contributing factor and I definitely wouldn’t label the connection as “Junk Science.”
There were two items in particular in the article that irked me. One of the common defenses for neonics is that poor beekeeper management is responsible for CCD, not neonics. This tone has been used throughout the discussions this winter – that somehow, beekeepers in Ontario are a bunch of hobbyists who lack the proper skills to keep hives alive (as opposed to beekeepers in Western Canada who have no trouble keeping their bees alive). Are there hobbyist beekeepers in Ontario? Yes. Are there also professional beekeepers who derive all or a significant portion of their income from beekeeping? Yes. To write off the entire CCD problem under a stereotype of incompetence on the part of fellow individuals within agriculture is offensive.
Terry also dismissed the European study that supported the moratorium on neonic sales in the EU as having “cherry picked” 800 studies that supported the scientists’ views. He then pointed out that a subsequent review of 1 500 studies came to a different conclusion. This situation reminds me of an anomaly in the Scottish legal system that allows for three verdicts – Guilty, Not Proven, and Not Guilty. Science has a lot of “Not Proven” conclusions. Not Proven isn’t necessarily Not Guilty. Even if the two reviews Terry references contained no overlap, one third of the studies looking at the connection between neonics and bee mortality concluded there is cause for concern. This hardly qualifies as “Junk Science.” Implicit in Terry’s comments was an assertion that the European regulatory authority was duped by a conspiracy of scientists. That another regulatory agency takes a different approach and reaches different conclusions than their North American counterparts doesn’t make their decisions wrong. It also doesn’t mean they are incompetent.
My tweets included a second line of comment that related to one of Terry’s previous tweets regarding the non-ag influence on the Minister’s actions on the neonic and other issues. The Ontario ag industry needs to understand that eaters and citizens of Ontario believe that they should have some say in agri-food policy. That an urban-based government gives weight to eaters’ opinions should not be surprising. Because they were blindsided by the neonic decision, the Grain Farmers of Ontario refused to participate in the Ministry’s consultation process. The Minister and Ministry were acting on the direct instructions of the Premier as revealed in the Premier’s Mandate Letter to the Minister. Attempting to embarrass the Minister is a foolhardy strategy when it is clear that the Minister has the support of the Premier and Cabinet. Piling on by labeling the decision as junk science in a national newspaper was ill considered. The ag industry needs a good working relationship with the Minister.
Ontario agriculture likes to congratulate itself on its forward thinking with initiatives such as the Environmental Farm Plan and the work of organizations such as Farm and Food Care. These initiatives were a start and have had a positive impact but they fall far short of what is needed on the environmental front to neutralize the negative impacts of agriculture. These approaches are losing effectiveness in today’s political environment. The cynicism of the public towards information defending the practises of an industry provided by industry funded organizations has never been higher and continues to rise. That Monsanto, DuPont et al partially fund Farm and Food Care activities immediately discredits them with many people in the food movement. Ontario agriculture needs a new approach.
There are more people than ever trying to engage with and influence their food system. Ontario agriculture can continue defending the status quo or it can choose to work with eaters to build a shared vision of a future with a food system that heals Ontario and its citizens.