South Western Ontario managing partner Bob Berry offers our first opinion-editorial piece on the amount of regulation in the agriculture sector in Canada:

If our first farmers, Adam and Eve, knew what they would be getting us into when they entered the orchard they may never have taken up farming.   I read today, with interest as I always do, the January 28, 2014, edition of the Ontario Farmer.  The first section alone (31 pages) contains a dozen or more articles and letters addressing a host of issues from  the outbreak of PED (Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea) to the proposed Agriculture Growth Act and issue of Plant Breeder’s Rights and the right of farmers to save seeds to the report on the Canadian Dairy Commission annual meeting and the issues addressed by its speakers such as “tinkering with the cost of production formula”, the DDIP successor program, a code of ethics for employees and the allocation of quota for the supply of  milk and milk by-products for yogurt, cheese and baby formula and pages and pages of ads for farm and farm related equipment.  I haven’t even begun to read the second and third section.   And this is weekly newspaper, always chock full of matters related to agriculture. 

Recently, I had occasion to do some research on an agriculture related question posed to me by a friend.  I didn’t know exactly what legislation might be applicable so I started my research by going to the ServiceOntario website and looking up the word “agriculture” under the Ontario Consolidated Statutes and Regulations page.   To my amazement I found the word “agriculture” referred to 328 times in 110 pieces of Ontario legislation.  I thought to narrow my search by looking up the word “food” - wrong guess, 2,542 hits in 247 pieces of legislation.  Fortunately, I looked up “farming” and found only 303 hits in 59 pieces of legislation. 

I haven’t found the answer yet but I have just begun my search through all the federal legislation and all the rules and regulations and policy statements issued by regulatory and marketing boards throughout Ontario and on behalf of the federal authorities and, of course, all the case law issued by courts attempting to interpret all these pieces of legislation, rules, regulations and policy statements. 

A cursory review of the Ontario legislation clearly shows that every aspect of the agriculture industry is regulated.  Government and its agencies regulate relationships:

  • between the producers and their work force (e.g. Agriculture Employees Protection Act);
  • between the producers and their animals (e.g. Animal Health Act);
  • between producers and their land (e.g. Nutrient Management Act);
  • between producers and their customers (e.g. Farm Products Marketing Act);
  • between producers and their suppliers (e.g. Farm Implements Act);
  • between producers and their risk (e.g. Crop Insurance Act);
  • between producers and their spokespersons (e.g. Agricultural and Horticultural Organizations Act);
  • between producers and their government (e.g. Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act); and
  • between producers and their future (e.g. Agriculture Research Institute of Ontario Act). 

Is all this regulation necessary? Is the industry over regulated and too dependent on (or made to be too dependent on) government?

If agriculture is or is becoming the largest industry in Ontario, if not in Canada, then should we be examining all this regulation and its cost of enforcement to determine its impact on the industry and whether or not it is impeding or aiding its growth?  Whether or not our producers and consumers are benefitting from all this regulation?  Whether or not it is making us more or less competitive with our external competitors?  Whether or not we are competing with ourselves, inter-and intra-industry? 

These are perhaps the questions the agriculture industry and government must ask, if we have not already done so.  Perhaps if Adam and Eve had not taken that first bite and left that apple alone…!  Regardless of the answer, if there is one, it is a fascinating industry to read about and study.