Monday, July 14, 2008

Yeah, Eileen, but it's still shit

First it was called "sewage sludge", then "biofuel", and now Eileen Smith of the Ministry of the Environment informs us that henceforth it will be called "non-agricultural source materials."

Sure, Eileen, but it's still shit.

The Star has been running a series on sewage sludge and the controversy regarding the safety of spreading it on farmland and growing our food in it. A program born purely of the need to get rid of the stuff is surely not the most auspicious beginning for disposing of solid waste left over from the treatment of human, commercial, hospital and industrial waste :
"Diverting some of it to fields began in the 1970s. Then in 1996, the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement stiffened sewage treatment guidelines. This created more sludge and Ontario started recommending it for use as fertilizer for farm crops. Faced with fast-filling landfills and a U.S. border slowly closing to Ontario's waste, many municipalities accepted."

Why am I suddenly reminded of the spinach and tomato recalls last year due to salmonella and e coli?
Possibly because "local officials who investigate health complaints are not required to report their findings to the province."
Well, that and the fact that according to Eileen "sludge will be the joint responsibility of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and the environment ministry".
What about the Ministry of Health? Nope, they're out of the picture now. Also :

"In a move that Eileen Smith says will raise safety, odour and application standards, the government is introducing changes that will drop the requirement for a certificate of approval for sludge spreading and allow it to be handled by farmers as part of the Nutrient Management Act."

In other words certificates will no longer be publicly available to tell us what's being spread and who is spreading it.
This is the second case of the Cons deregulating food safety this week, coming suspiciously on the heals of the deregulation of food labelling. See SPP and Mad Cow. and SPP : Outsourcing food safety to industry

Here's one of those anecdote-is-not-data stories.
Many years ago, having heard about the Chinese use of "night soil", I called around and left messages trying to get advice on how I could safely compost my own for the rose beds, and went off to work for the day. I came home to an answering machine full of alarmed responses from various health officials asking questions like "How many of you are doing this?"
A guy from UBC Soil Sciences was the most informative. Even in the unlikely case you get the temperature high enough to kill most of the pathogens, he explained, you'd still be introducing a new concentration of heavy metals into the soil.
Heavy metals?
Human waste has a very high concentration of them, he said.
Well what about China?
Yeah, it's a big problem there and in South America, he replied, proceeding to tell me about various unattractive soil-born diseases.

And that was just my shit, never mind the pesticides and drugs and bacteria and hormones that are in the industrial and hospital stuff.

Now obviously a safe system of "nutrient recycling" is a great idea.
But if what farmers are spreading on their crops in Ontario is as safe as Eileen says it is, why has Health Canada been dropped as a regulating body and why will certificates no longer be available to tell us who is using the stuff?

As usual, the handy Security and Prosperity Partnership is always there to answer your questions.

SPP : Prosperity Pillar Working Groups :
"The Food and Agricultural Group will work towards creating a safer and more reliable food supply while facilitating agricultural trade by pursuing common approaches to enhanced food safety; ... and increasing cooperation in the development of regulatory policy."

1 comment:

West End Bob said...

Holy shit!

Good stuff here, Alison.

Makes you proud that harperco is at the helm, doesn't it? With all the deregulation, lack of oversight, "integrated" policies the shit is definitely about to hit the fan . . . .

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