A headline from the British newspaper The Guardian popped up today on my morning scan of a half-dozen papers. "No penalties issued under useless English farm pollution laws."
The Guardian report says that since 2018 when laws went into effect there have been 243 violations of farming rules for water but no prosecutions or fines. And conservation groups say the number of violations is much higher than 243.
If that had been a U.S. headline, I would have yawned and moved on as I'm used to seeing stories about little or no regulation and oversight of farming activity that negatively impacts our waterways. Think the Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico for starters. In the Great Lakes region Lake Erie is the ag pollution poster-child. Unchecked nutrient runoff from farms fueled the toxic algae blooms that led to the 2014 Toledo water crisis.
But this is Great Britain, I thought more civilized and as a European country, more accepting of environmental protection and regulations, right?
So I dug deeper and found a 2018 Yale Environment Review article on how Brit farmers see their environmental responsibility. The Yale report said researchers divided farmers into two camps; "productivist" and "stewardship." The farmers who focused on production were singularly driven to produce the food the world needs, period. The stewards took into account the need to consider future generations in their practices. The Yale article is a quick read and is illuminating. It's here.
In fairness to farmers, they're a business that produces to demand. If we want hamburgers available on every corner and in every strip mall, ag will meet the demand and the environment will likely suffer. So, we play a part.
I bring up ag pollution now as we've got a new Democratic president in Washington and Democrats control congress, at least for a couple of years. In theory, they should be more disposed to protect our waterways from ag pollution. But that means standing up to the powerful ag lobby which leans heavily toward the productivist v. the stewardship model of farming so, an unlikely scenario.
I doubt the Biden executive branch or the Democratic led congress will take a hard we have to reign in farm pollution to our waterways stance, it's a tough sell for politicians. Our waterways will likely continue to suffer.
Chicago-based environmental journalist