Bill 6 is Back- And scarier than before

I really had hoped that the Notley government had learned it’s lesson in late November and early December last year- Alberta farmers were not prepared to take their intrusive legislation lying down.  Bill 6 made news headlines for weeks and stirred an uproar the like of which my generation has hardly ever seen in provincial politics. You can read my original statement here: Bill 6 and the End of the Family Farm.  Cowboy under OHS

While perhaps not intended to be as overarching, socialist and far reaching as the bill was originally interpreted, farmers across the province banded together to let the Notley government know that we would not bow down to the bill by rallying multiple times in Edmonton and staging protest convoys.  Regardless of intent, however, the bill is still written as a heavy-handed, unsolicited piece of legislation which would does little to improve safety on farms, and paves the way for intrusive government OH&S investigation. Further, it essentially allows unions to move in and take over the workplaces of large farms, most of which are still family owned and operated, as they have been for decades.

Late last week, the consulting boards we were promised in early January have finally been put together, almost 6 months after the passing of the skeleton bill (which somehow went into effect January 1, without being fleshed out or amended…?). Six consultation groups have been assembled, covering the topics of: The Employment Standards Code, Labour Relations Code, two groups cover the Review of Existing Requirements and Exceptions, Best Practices for Agriculture, and Education, Training, and Certifications.  The detailed outlines of these groups are available here:  Alberta government website.

We knew these groups were coming, and we had been told to be patient.  The groups were expected to be put together in early March.  It is now late May.  Not unexpected from any government.  We were told these groups would be representative of the agriculture community.  They are.  We were NOT told that these groups would be chaired by union employees, lawyers, union facilitators and university professors.  We were NOT told that of 78 members across 6 groups, only 23 (29%, less than a third)  of them would be farmers and members of the AgCoalition , and the rest would be union employees, government employees, nurses, professors and many others whom have no viable connection to Alberta agriculture. (Wheat Growers VP disappointed with Bill 6 working group picks, only 29% farmers)103

How are we now to expect that these groups have the best interests of the agriculture community in mind?  How can I sleep at night and know that these people will come to the best conclusions, when two-thirds of every group is constructed of people who may not understand the businesses they are attempting to regulate?  Alberta agriculture is the oldest, proudest business sector in the province.  We have existed, farmed, and ranched since before Edmonton was Fort Edmonton, and certainly long before the province was formed 111 years ago.  Alberta agriculture deserves better than a 1/3 representation in the most influential ag bill of the new millennium. This is nothing more than a slap in the face to Alberta farmers, and a statement to the effect that we cannot be trusted to put together legislation that works for all producers.  We do not need to be told. by unions, by white-collars, or by the Notley government how to best keep ourselves, our families, and our employees safe. Bill 6 is not over, in my opinion. Indeed, the fight against it may really just be starting.

Bill 6 and Amendments

A Communications Breakdown

Earls

Luckily for Earl’s Restaurants, I was too preoccupied with final exams, term papers, and end-of-semester debacles to even think about having the time or energy to pump out a blog post concerning their now-overturned move to source Kansan beef.  Although I did not have the time to write about it, studying and procrastination go hand-in-hand, and so I was extremely up-to-date on all the happenings in my home province concerning the issue.

First off, I was extremely offended by the initial move Earl’s took in announcing their new source for beef would be “Certified Humane.”  On it’s own, this is a slap in the face to anyone who raises cattle that are not “Certified Humane,” as it implies that cattle not raised under the banner are beaten and tortured- which, of course, is simply not true.  Added to the label, though, was a caveat that Earl’s could not find sufficient supplies for “Certified Humane” beef in Alberta, or even Canada for that matter, and so had begun to purchase beef from Creekstone Farms, a company located in Kansas.  Not only did Earl’s slap me in the face, they offended an entire country of beef cattle producers, as they essentially said Canadian cattle were not raised well enough to grace the plates at their restaurants.  Just in case anyone is still wondering, that’s what set off every beef producer in Canada.

A second observation I had was that, despite the industry’s best efforts, there still seems to be an major communications blockade between consumers, retailers and beef producers.  After close to a decade of Agricultural Advocacy via social media, blogs, and outreach, the beef industry doesn’t seem to have made much of an impact on the education of the consumers.  That’s how I see it, and here’s how I came to that conclusion:

Earl’s released a statement early in the whole scandal that stated they had surveyed consumers in their restaurants.  The survey, according to the press release,  revealed that the people who eat at Earl’s Restaurants placed emphasis on the notion that they wanted their beef to be raised humanely.  It was very important to them, and this importance was the driving force behind Earl’s decision. Let me say, that the consumer wanting their beef to be treated in a humane way is not at all a bad thing.  However, where the real issue comes in is the consumer’s definition of humane treatment.

Humane treatment in the eyes of the consumers who responded to the survey at Earl’s included cattle not receiving antibiotics of any form or for any reason (metaphylactic or therapeutic).  Dave Bursey, protein purchaser for Earl’s, said the following in a video currently posted on Earl’s website:

“[The animals] receive no growth promotants, no medication, at all, in their lifespan…”

This, to me, is an obvious failure on our part as the cattle industry to properly explain what we are doing and why we are doing it.  We have succeeded, to a degree, in reassuring people that hormones and antibiotics are not dangerous to humans when we use them in beef cattle.  However, we have evidently failed to say that their use in the  cattle we raise is not harmful to the animals (in the case of hormone treatments) and is actually beneficial (in the case of antibiotic treatments).

Perhaps the best thing to come from the Earl’s scandal is the fact that their move placed the Canadian beef industry in the spotlight.  For our part, I think we did very, very well in getting in front of the issues and conquering the misinformation that Earl’s was (unintentionally) spreading.  We had multiple industry leaders on TV denouncing the move from Earl’s, and the reaction via social media was massive, rapid, and, most importantly, accurate and educational.  We have been given an open door with this situation, and I  feel that the industry handled it extremely well, especially given the fact that Earl’s recalled it’s decision and announced it will continue to source Canadian beef as a result of the push-back.

Where do we go from here? Unfortunately, it seems difficult to keep consumers interested in learning about agricultural production once the “deliciousness” of a social justice movement has worn off.  I believe that, as an industry, we need to keep the pressure up just as we always have, but we need to increase the pressure on the media; we need to get the news stations reporting what we know to be true, rather than the thoughts of a reporter who is only looking for an attention grabbing headline.  I think the success of this whole mess is due in no small part to the presence of industry leaders and farmers on news broadcasts, morning show interviews and online articles. Those are the places where our presence is weakest, and I think, the places where we need to put pressure for accurate, informed, educated reporting.

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Humane Treatment is  firmly ingrained in the common production practices of the Canadian Beef Industry, even without certification.