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OPINION: Throes of addiction

Cavendish Farms has major french fry operations in New Annan, P.E.I. (Logo)

“We know it will never be enough. They’ll still want more land, more water, more subsidies”



After watching the presentation by representatives of Cavendish Farms to the Standing Committee on Communities, Lands and Environment, I can’t help but worry about what kind of a world we are leaving to our children.

Dr. Gabor Maté is a renowned Canadian physician with an expertise in addiction. In his book The Realm of the Hungry Ghosts, he talks about the Buddhist idea of different realms people can occupy during their life.

“This is the domain of addiction, where we constantly seek something outside ourselves to curb an insatiable yearning for relief or fulfillment.

RELATED: Cavendish Farms president Robert Irving urges P.E.I. government to double potato farm land limits

The aching emptiness is perpetual because the substances, objects or pursuits we hope will soothe it are not what we really need. We don’t know what we need, and so long as we stay in the hungry ghost mode, we’ll never know,” he writes.

Increasingly, we seem to be slipping into this realm, whether on a global, national, or provincial level. Growth is said to be good, without really analysing what the growth is doing to us.

More jobs are a positive thing, even though they may be part time and poorly paid positions, with no benefits, that were subsidized by taxpayers.

The presentation to the Standing Committee was reflective of this philosophy. Robert Irving would like the province to break the Lands Protection Act by more than doubling the ownership limits. This makes no sense. Several times he pointed out that they were not looking for more potato acreage, just larger farms. That would have to lead to fewer potato farmers in the province.

He would like to greatly accelerate the trend of fewer farmers holding larger acreages. The carrot tossed to the public was that farmers would be able to have enough land to grow 700 acres of potatoes and have a one-in-three-year crop rotation. But with current crop rotation legislation already being ignored or weakened by exceptions, there are no guarantees that even larger farms would respect the rules.

He also spoke of the need for more water, without actually voicing his desire for the moratorium on high-capacity wells to be lifted. But again, we all know that is the end game. What I worry about most is that the provincial government caves in and gives away the farm, so to speak. And then gives away the water, too.

In the presentation, Irving talked about having to bring in potatoes from Maine, Alberta, and other growing areas, as well as shutting down the fresh potato plant in O’Leary and diverting those potatoes to french fries.

But that is because they continue to grow their business. It seems as though there is no recognition of the carrying capacity of the land. Just how many fries can be produced on P.E.I. without pushing the environment past the tipping point? Does the industry continue to grow until they flee the province when the resources – in this case soil and water - are used up?

It was also almost tragic to hear Mr. Irving talk about “rich soils” on P.E.I. In fact, he said it twice, as if that would convince us. But our soils are far from rich. Most have alarmingly low levels of organic matter, something a 17-year study by Agriculture and Agrifoods Canada scientists has clearly documented. As for nutrients, you wouldn’t get much of a potato crop if you planted into fields without lime and fertilizer purchased from the Irvings.

Maté was writing about addictions and that seems to be what we are seeing – a processing giant in the throes of addiction, with a perpetual need for more and more, a longing can never be fulfilled.

We know it will never be enough. They’ll still want more land, more water, more subsidies. I really despair for this province if our government doesn’t stand up for the rights of all of Islanders and the environment.

This recent attempt to influence government is clearly not a matter of need. It is just another attempt to feed the hungry ghost.

- Gary Schneider, co-chair, Environmental Coalition of P.E.I.

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