Food security advocates wary of new B.C. farmland regulations
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Now that the whirlwind of regulatory changes to British Columbia’s farmland has swept through the province, growers and food security advocates will meet this week to survey the aftermath.
The changes made under the Agricultural Land Commission Act – which includes splitting the province’s protected agriculture land into two zones, opens up land for secondary economic uses and decentralizes land use decision making power to six regional panels – and its impacts will be top of mind during the B.C. Food Systems Network’s 17th annual gathering near Prince George.
The network’s director, Brent Mansfield, told Metro the industry is anxious to see how the changes play out.
“The devil will be in the details,” he said. “The changes were not as vicious or disruptive as we feared, but there are a lot of reasons for concern.”
While the newly created Zone 1 (which includes the Lower Mainland) remains fairly protective of agricultural land, Mansfield worries about what the new regime could mean for Zone 2, particularly in the Interior.
While adding secondary uses for protected land, such as breweries or other production facilities, could be an advantage for growers, he’s concerned ALR land could be misused if the new regional panels are too lenient.
“I heard a real estate promoter suggest it’s a good time to purchase agricultural land because it’s now open for development,” said Mansfield. “The concern is we could see more speculative development that does nothing to benefit our food systems.”
With droughts affecting food prices for imported produce and Vancouver’s own dry weather lately, he says boosting food security is more important than ever.
And while Metro Vancouver’s agricultural land is well protected, for the time being, he said more policies are needed to boost local food production.
“We can’t afford to see these lands go,” he said. “It’s about tipping the scales back. 30 years ago, the majority of our food would have been produced locally.”
That trend, however, has flipped on its head.
In 2014, Mansfield authored a report for Vancity on B.C.’s food security.
It concluded that while Vancouverites are becoming more interested in buying local, the opposite is happening.
Crop production in B.C. decreased by 20.4 per cent between 1991 and 2014, and we’re becoming increasingly reliant on imports.
“We’re hearing a lot of interest in [increased food security], but the data has yet to show it. We haven’t seen that big shift,” said Mansfield.
That’s why the Agricultural Land Commission’s new structure must keep the protection of farmland it’s absolute priority, he said.