Something curious seems to happen to some folks who get themselves elected as councillors in large urban centres across North America. They seem to become deluded with their newfound sense of power and set out to save the world from evil and tyranny.
That new sense of grandiose destiny usually comes as a complete surprise to city voters who were under the impression they were electing folks to look after fixing potholes and seeing that the police and fire service were functioning. I guess those activities are just too mundane to keep city officials busy, so they decide to expand into becoming saviours of the environment and to change people’s nasty habits.
The fact that those actions are beyond their humble mandates does not deter them one bit — it seems the more absurd the idea, the bigger the issue becomes.
That brings us to Calgary city council — after much debate, that insightful council voted to ban the sale of shark-fin soup within the city limits. Now, sharks aren’t exactly a common species around Calgary (an exception might be within some law firm offices), so the economic and environmental impact wouldn’t be significant for this ban.
One assumes there will be a shark-fin soup inspector hired to enforce the ban, so there’s an employment opportunity for someone.
Councillors and their spin doctors were quick to point out that the ban was merely a symbolic gesture to show solidarity with those who want to ban the practice of killing sharks for their fins. But their action is the beginning of a slippery slope to ban almost anything that comes to the city council’s whim.
Other large urban centres across the continent have done exactly that, and they do so with impunity.
What has this to do with agriculture, you might ponder — well, urban jurisdictions are the well-spring of legislation that was later passed by provincial, state and federal governments.
One might recall the crisis in the horse industry when governments in the U.S., at almost every level, banned the slaughter of unwanted horses. City and state governments have banned the production of foie gras, the use of gestation crates for hog production, cages for egg production and, of course, banning the use of herbicides and pesticides has become a badge of political correctness.
The list grows every year, and with the shark fin ban in Calgary, you can see this banning practice growing in Canada.
One might surmise that this sort of legislative nonsense is mainly confined to the naive and gullible in large cities. If only we were so sure — the point is that there are a lot more dumb voters in the city, whose notions could have production consequences on agriculture and food processing.
It’s a reality that zealous green and animal rights groups know all too well. They also know that getting a foot in the door is just the first step. It seems influencing “dumb aldermen” is easy if one notes all the banning that’s occurring across North America and Europe.
True, banning things that are beyond your jurisdiction is cheap politics — it does make an elected official look good, without having to do anything.
The shark-fin ban was done by those who painted a horrific image of finless sharks dying a slow death by suffocation. But then we kill other animals for other dubious purposes —we boil crabs and lobsters alive, we kill animals just for their fur, and yes we at times race horses to early deaths.
If politicians are being honest and altruistic, should we not be banning all of these practices and not just the harvesting and sale of shark fins. The fear is that is what will eventually happen, and slowly but surely agriculture will be negatively affected.
It’s a slow and insidious process already. Animal agriculture is being forced to adopt costly production practices by buyers that are based on perception — not facts. The same is happening in crop production with herbicide and pesticide use — they are harder to develop and face restricted usage.
The battle against GM plants goes on.
I’m not saying that it all started with banning shark-fin soup, but the pattern is becoming familiar.
Will Verboven is the editor of Alberta Farmer.