Fur farm regulations fall short, groups say

Carla Allen callen@thevanguard.ca
Published on January 22, 2013

New fur farm regulations do very little to address the pollution from mink farms say environmental associations.
Contributed Photo

The Department of Agriculture has put the value of mink at a much higher level than the health and ecosystem of the region, says the president of the Tusket River Environmental Protection Association (TREPA).

New regulations for the fur industry were released earlier this month.

Mil Nickerson, president of TREPA, says the association cannot support the majority of the new regulations.

“They provide no assurance toward protecting the environment,” he said.

“We do admit that something is better than nothing.”

In TREPA’s opinion, the regulations have too much administrator or ministerial discretion.

Nickerson pointed out some examples:

The administrator may exempt any farm from complying with any of these regulations if he or she feels there will be no impact to the environment.

Farms are allowed earthen lagoons for liquid manure as long as there is no expansion and they only need to be 50 metres from a watercourse and only a 100-metre separation is required from wells.

Ground water is only tested if recommended by a designated professional and the limit is set high at 0.1mg/litre or 100 micrograms/litre of total phosphorous.

“This is a level at which a lake is hyper-eutrophic. Groundwater, well, and lake water commonly mix,” Nickerson said. “All setbacks are too low and have obviously been set to comply with existing mink operations.”

Other items that cause concern, he said, include no need for farms of less than 100 animals to have a permit or management plan. These operations will be grandfathered.

Several of these farms now exist in Digby County and could have a negative impact on ecosystems without any regulations, Nickerson said.

“It would be interesting to know what percentage of existing operations have less than 100 animals,” he said.

“We recommend that all municipal units develop and implement bylaws to provide adequate protection.”

Julia Bancroft, spokesperson for the

Tricounty Watershed Protection Association – a group formed about five years ago to stop the pollution caused by mink farms at the headwaters of the Meteghan, Sissaboo, and Tusket Rivers – says the Department of Environment conducted water tests in 10 lakes and along 75 kilometres of the Tusket River for three straight years. The final water test results concluded that the mink farms were the probable cause.

“The government cancelled further water tests and no action was taken despite protests from citizens and environmental groups,” she said.

The group’s primary concerns are the disposal of manure, urine, carcasses, surface water runoff going into the river and lakes, setbacks from wells, adjacent properties, watercourses and the lack of inspections by the departments of agriculture and environment, as well as the high phosphorous levels that caused blue-green algae to grow and contaminate waterways.

Despite public consultations with stakeholders and suggestions from the association, the fur farm regulations now in effect have no real defined consequences such as fines for non-compliance and would appear to be un-enforceable, says Bancroft.

“Almost none of our concerns were addressed,” she said.

She provides an example.

“The regulations say that carcasses must be frozen until disposed of at a Nova Scotia Department of Environment approved disposal facility, but in the next sentence on-farm composting is allowed,” she said.

She added that the setbacks required by the regulations are dismal and that the number of officers to monitor the farms – one for 99 – is insufficient.

“The most positive thing about these regulations is at least there is something written down and we can start our fight to change them.”