Having watched the blistering attacks of the Fraser Institute's bizarre assessment of the ALR by media, politicians and agricultural & environmental advocates across the province, I am not surprised by the Institute's testy response. But I wonder if Dean Pelskey has been smoking the same stuff as Diane Katz, author of the Fraser Institute's BC Agricultural Land Reserve: A Critical Assessment.
The Chilliwack Times piece on the report was dead on the money. Katz did not say word-for-word that biotechnology will "help us grow food without all that pesky farmland" she does on four separate occasions reference developments in biotechnolgy and greenhouses that significantly increase produce yields. The inference is crystal clear that she is suggesting these "advancements" diminish the need for farmland to produce food. She has ignored the widespread concerns about bioengineered food or the concerns about energy demands of greenhouses, and their impacts on food pricing and climate change. She ignores the fact that we share the province's foodlands with hundreds of wildlife species.
Mr. Pelkey says it is irrelevant that Ms Katz is not from BC. I beg to differ. Her statement that "British Columbia was not made for farming" is a clear indication she has no idea what she's talking about and she probably has never seen the Chilliwack corn fields, the ranches of the Cariboo and the Kootenays, the orchards and vineyards of the Okanagan, the cranberry bogs of the Fraser Valley flood plain, which provide Ocean Spray with approximately 30% of its annual crop, the potatoe farms of Pemberton "Spud Valley" (which produce the largest variety of seed potatoes in the world), the dairy farms of Abbotsford - or the berry fields of Langley Township, where the combination of soil and climate provide some of the best berry growing conditions in North America. In that one statement the Fraser Institute lost all credibility on this subject.
The strongest premise of the Fraser Institute's report is that the ALR has made housing unaffordable in BC. Katz is right about BC's farmland contributing to high property prices, but not by restricting development. Our rich farmland, like our majestic mountains, our breathtaking coast line and rich biodiversity make this area one of the most popular places in the world to live, and that is what drives property values
There is no shortage of land for housing or commerce. We just have to start making better use of the land that we have - and that's not hard to do, because we have been flagrantly wasteful for the last 40 years.
Ms. Katz carefully selected a handful of references to support her conclusions and ignored vast bodies of information about BC's Agricultural Land Reserve, agricultural, economic and environmental trends. She ignored the serious warnings contained in British Columbia's Food Self Reliance Report, and sheignored huge contributing issues like climate change and peak oil, and the UN's assertions that that the world is now in a global food security crisis. She ignored the fact that agriculture in this province provides 36,500 direct jobs and 280,000 food-related jobs.
She ignored the considerable contributions to BC's economy from tourists who flock to BC to enjoy the rich biodiversity, hundreds of species of which rely on farmland for habitat.
Ms. Katz failed to mention that other jurisdictions (including Ontario and Quebec) are now madly trying to put in land reserves, for foodlands and wildlife habitat.
She's right about the problem that farming is not drawing the number of new generation farmers that we need. But dismantling the ALR does not address that problem.
Ms. Katz makes a wildly flawed assumption that British Columbians will be able to rely on imported food indefinitely. She doesn't appear to be aware that of the 52% of food BC imports, our largest supplier is California, an area that experienced drought conditions for three consecutive summers.
Most offensive of Ms. Katz's assertions were the listing of a handful of examples of health related issues arising from local produce. It is a weak and insulting argument, and is not balanced by the overwhelming environmental health concerns associated with imported food.
If I were the Fraser Institute I wouldn't crow about Diane Katz being one of its most senior planners and researchers. Her report is not something to be proud of.
Farmland Defence League of BC