As the province where the highest density of intensive livestock operations in Canada can be found, Ontario offers some extreme examples of the impact this industry can have on human health, communities and the environment. Ontario has also implemented some unique and innovative legislation to help regulate ILOs, although the effectiveness of these measures is still very much a matter of debate.

In 2006, dairy farming ranked as Ontario’s largest cash receipted agricultural sector with 18 per cent of market share followed by floriculture/nurseries, cattle/calves, vegetables, hogs and poultry. Confined production systems are predominant in the hog, poultry and dairy sectors with most agricultural production clustered in the southwest panhandle of Ontario. The intensity and concentration of livestock production won certain regions of southern Ontario dubious distinction among Canada’s largest manure producers. The Maitland, Upper Thames and Upper Grand sub-watersheds rank first, second and third in Canada for manure production.

In May 2000, drinking water contaminated with E.coli and campylobacter bacteria killed seven people and made over 2,300 ill in Walkerton, Ontario. The Walkerton Inquiry alongside condemnatory reports from the Commissioner for the Environment and Sustainable Development, which audited the health of the Great Lakes, and the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, paved the way for the introduction of new legislation to protect source drinking water. The Nutrient Management Act, Safe Drinking Water Act and Clean Water Act were all introduced after Walkerton as measures to safeguard Ontario citizens from contaminated water. To reduce the impact of agricultural runoff and aquifer contamination, source water protection planning has become one of many new tools used in Ontario as part of its multiple barrier approach.

The Ministry of the Environment (MOE) is responsible for enforcement and compliance under the Environmental Protection Act (EPA), the Ontario Water Resources Act (OWRA), the Pesticides Act (PA) and the Nutrient Management Act, 2002 (NMA). These statutes all apply to agricultural operations. Other laws administered by the MOE, such as the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Environmental Assessment Act, will also occasionally directly affect farmers.

While these measures are laudable, their effectiveness is open to debate. As the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario (ECO) points out here, “shortfalls in budgets, staffing and in-house expertise are hampering the effectiveness of the MOE.” The ECO is also concerned that the Nutrient Management Act is not fully subject to the province’s Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR). The EBR allows the public certain rights such as the right for notification, right to review and comment, right to appeal a ministry decision, right to apply for a review, right to apply for an investigation, right to sue and whistleblower protection. Under the NMA citizens are not allowed to apply for investigations, nor do they have right to sue farm operations.

Like most jurisdictions across the country, Ontario has [right to farm] legislation that protects factory farms from common law nuisance suits. The Farming and Food Production Protection Act protects farmers from lawsuits and the ability for municipalities to restrict farming activities if they are deemed to be normal under the [Normal Farm Practices Protection Board]9http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/engineer/nfppb/nfppb.htm).

For an understanding of how abnormal factory farming is in Ontario, see: “It’s Hitting the Fan: The Unchecked Growth of Factory Farms in Canada”

For a thoughtful discussion of how the Nutrient Management Act works see: “What Makes Nutrient Management So Controversial?”

For an analysis on farmers rights and the Farming and Food Production Protection Act see: “CELAs discussion paper on Intensive Agricultural Operations”

While it is expected that the NMA will eventually override municipal by-laws which apply to nutrient planning and management, municipalities may still have the powers to protect the general health and welfare of their citizens. EcoJustice Canada developed a municipal by-laws and best practices report for enhancing community health and protecting the environment. “The Municipal Powers Report” can be downloaded here.