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Editorial: A fine balance

Where does one individual’s rights end, and another’s begin?

One famous definition runs like this: “The right to swing my arms in any direction ends where your nose begins.”

It’s a straightforward common-sense approach that attempts to balance individual liberty with the rights of others. However, it’s also a very simplistic black-or-white view. The reality is that most of the world exists in shades of grey.

Finding our way in that landscape requires an eye for subtleties and a realization that the world is an imperfect place.

Two stories in our June 20 issue of the Co-operator highlight this concept in the world of agriculture.

Allan Dawson reports about the breakdown in efficacy of Bt corn that’s been a boon to growers seeking control for European corn borer. Last week the first case of resistance in Canada was revealed in Atlantic Canada.

That might feel very distant to Manitoba growers, but provincial entomologist John Gavloski was very clear in his message to the sector: it’s far closer than it seems.

While Bt corn might have looked like a magic bullet and was extremely effective, it shares the same feet of clay as any pesticide. If it’s used too often and too indiscriminately, naturally resistant organisms, present at a low level, will eventually be all that survives, resulting in an ineffective product.

The companies that developed the product told growers from the outset they needed to plant ‘refuges’ where non-resistant pests could survive. Some went so far as to only release the product in a form that blended a non-Bt corn hybrid.

Yet despite this, in just a few short years resistance to Bt corn has gone from concept to reality. That strongly suggests the refuge rules weren’t always followed, and that growers were likely too enthusiastic in their embrace of a tool that worked well on their farm.

For Manitoba growers to escape this fate will require vigilance and a commitment to doing the right thing. Gavloski suggests producers critically evaluate if it’s being overused. While Bt corn is a boon in bad years, using it year in and year out, with no regard to the actual corn borer population is wasting this tool and undermining the industry.

Resistance is a community problem that requires a community solution.

On the front page of our June 20 issue, Geralyn Wichers reports on an outbreak of infectious laryngotracheitis (ILT) among chickens at an animal sanctuary that’s open to the public.

The commercial poultry sector is quite right to be worried. It’s a reportable disease that’s economically dangerous to it, although not harmful to people, and the refuge exists in close proximity to a number of commercial operations.

If the disease were to move into one of these barns — and it has happened, though it’s been a few years — the operation would have to depopulate the barn and take a number of steps to ensure the disease cycle is broken. It would be heartbreaking work for the men and women of the poultry sector and could result in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of birds in a very short period of time.

But perhaps it’s a bit too easy to suggest that the sanctuary is being irresponsible in refusing to euthanize its flock.

The sanctuary in question has, at every turn, complied with provincial regulation. Operators immediately reported the disease, as required after birds they purchased at a public auction developed symptoms of disease.

They consulted with Manitoba Agriculture and the Chief Veterinary Officer (CVO), again, as is legally required. The flock is under a voluntary “total quarantine” indicating they fully understand the seriousness of the situation, even if they don’t agree philosophically with the solution proposed by the commercial sector.

Yes, the fact their sanctuary is open to visitors does raise the stakes. But it’s also important to note these birds came to auction from an infected flock somewhere. The industry is now aware of a risk that was otherwise invisible.

Perhaps a review of provincial regulations is in order. For example, do auction marts require animals to be certified disease free before accepting them on their premises? Is that a reasonable requirement?

The province’s CVO, Megan Bergman, is a well-regarded professional with a strong track record. In 2017 Manitoba Pork recognized her efforts assisting the industry with the ongoing PEDv control, citing her “… strong leadership, knowledge, and genuine empathy in dealing with Manitoba pork producers.”

This event should spark a discussion. But everyone involved should recognize their dispute is not with the sanctuary operators or the regulators enforcing the rules.

It’s with the rules themselves and whether they’re up to the job.

About the author

Editor

Gord Gilmour is Editor of the Manitoba Co-operator.

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