The new Agriculture Bill seems more focused on collecting fines and private information and seizing property, than on growing the country’s primary industries, says the Opposition.
Democratic Party leader Tina Browne she was seriously concerned about such provisions as allowing a data collector to enter private property (excluding homes) without consent, to install or retrieve a data collection device, “whatever that is”.
“They don’t need your permission to do this. Collectors and inspectors can obtain search warrants and use any force necessary to search your home or other properties and seize any items – this is the role of Police, not of employees of the Ministry of Agriculture.”
Her concerns mirrored those of the Rarotonga Growers Association.
Chairperson Diana Tschan said growers felt that the Bill focused more on creating rules and penalties then providing incentives to encourage and support primary industries.
“The Agriculture community feel this Bill is rather oppressive and does not encourage a positive relationship of trust and innovation between the Agricultural Community (iti tangata) and Ministry of Agriculture.”
Tina Browne said that with all the recent government talk about diversifying the economy, a good start would be updating the 1987 Pesticides Act to review the use of toxic chemicals.
“Here we have an Agriculture bill that aspires to support the marketing and use of pesticides, while at the same time promising to regulate pesticides according to the Pesticides Act, an Act that is very much outdated,” she said.
“Not once does the Bill mention promoting organic agriculture, boosting livestock farming and ways to maximize the agriculture industry’s contribution to our national revenue. Instead, it’s more about controlling the civil liberties of our people, and that’s a real concern.”
She said the country’s organic growers had a worked very hard to ensure their produce was chemical-free, to give themselves a chance of exporting overseas.
“But this is going to be made so much more difficult for organic growers to ever achieve when highly toxic chemicals such as Paraquat and Paraquat-based products are still widely used here without any real restriction.”
Last month, a Te Are Manu veterinarian with experience in animal toxins, diagnosed six dogs as having been poisoned by the herbicide paraquat – which is banned in many other countries.
However (without conducting any veterinary inspection of its own) the Ministry of Agriculture declared the poisoning could not be from paraquat.