Letter to Dr. Mona Nemer, Chief Science Advisor

Dr. Mona Nemer
Office of the Chief Science Advisor
C.D. Howe Building
235 Queen Street, 754C
Ottawa, ON
K1A 0H5

November 23, 2017

Dear Dr. Nemer,

We are writing on behalf of Evolve Our Prison Farms, a Kingston-based coalition proposing that Canada’s restored prison farm program be founded on a model of plant-based agriculture and farmed animal sanctuary, rather than restoring the former dairy and meat operations. We understand that your mandate includes ensuring that scientific evidence be considered in any government decision-making process. We believe that the weight of evidence is overwhelmingly in favour of an evolved farm model, while a return to animal agriculture on prison farms would represent a backwards, unsustainable and problematic move.

To this end, we ask that you bring to the government’s attention the following areas of strong and credible evidence, all of which not only coalesce in favour of the Evolve proposal, but also align with federal government commitments:

Sustainability: It has been scientifically established that animal agriculture contributes significantly to climate change and air pollution, to land, soil and water degradation and to the reduction of biodiversity. See, for example, "Livestock's Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options" (2006, United Nations): http://www.fao.org/docrep/010/a0701e/a0701e00.HTM.
Plant-based farming involves much lower energy and water consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, and pollution. Furthermore, organic, permaculture and agroforestry techniques can help to nurture the soil and support biodiversity.

Dr. Amy Fitzgerald (specializing in green criminology, violence, and critical animal studies at University of Windsor), points to the "ample academic research documenting the therapeutic benefits of interacting with animals in pro-social ways,” and conversely the serious problems associated with animal agriculture and slaughter. She strongly recommends “that animals only be incorporated in correctional environments in a manner that fosters empathy for them (such as through animal assisted therapy or animal sanctuary programs) and not through animal agriculture, which by design serves to objectify and truncate empathy.”

Health: Proposed revisions to Canada’s Food Guide will emphasize plant-based sources of protein over animal protein, acknowledging the overwhelming body of scientific evidence documenting the health benefits of a plant-based diet. Given that our prisons follow Canada’s Food Guide, it would be misguided for the government to promote dairy and meat production on prison farms.

Reintegration: Kelly Struthers-Montford (research fellow at the Centre for Criminology and Sociolegal Studies, University of Toronto) writes that slaughterhouse work (which is a part of the prison farm program) "is counter to CSC's rehabilitative ideals and is inappropriate as a vocational training program." It is low-paying, has a turnover rate of 200% a year, and is both "criminogenic" and "psychologically damaging." http://www.evolveourprisonfarms.ca/p/expert-perspectives.html
Dr. Kendra Coulter (Department of Labour Studies, and Chancellor's Chair for Research Excellence at Brock University) calls Evolve Our Prison Farms’ proposal "compelling and persuasive." She notes that "in addition to the positive social, interpersonal, and environmental outcomes, there are noteworthy work and labour possibilities, both on the new farms themselves, and in terms of preparing participants for more empathetic and humane employment. This is a clear opportunity to establish Canada as a global leader, one which should be seized."
Reconciliation: Kelly Struthers-Montford (research fellow at the Centre for Criminology and Sociolegal Studies, University of Toronto) makes a compelling case against animal-based prison farms, drawing attention to its integral connection with colonialism. She writes: "If our current government's reconciliation efforts are sincere, animal-based prison farms must not be re-opened." http://www.evolveourprisonfarms.ca/p/expert-perspectives.html

Indigenous peoples account for 4% of the Canadian population yet represent a disproportionate 25% of the male federal prison population. Estimates on the rate of lactose intolerance among First Nations populations range from 74-100% (rates are also high among other ethnic groups of non-Northern-European origin). This raises serious questions about racism in dairy promotion, especially in a prison context where ethnic minorities account for roughly half of the incarcerated population. http://www.pcrm.org/health/diets/vegdiets/what-is-lactose-intolerance

Economic Feasibility: In their “Report on the Town Hall Meeting on the feasibility of re-establishing penitentiary farms at the Joyceville and Collins Bay Institutions” dated August 16, 2016, the government's own consultants stated that reinstating a dairy farm “may be unrealistic given preliminary estimates of its expense,” and “the operating costs of maintaining the penitentiary farm program as they were, while they were operational, were found to be prohibitive for CORCAN. The capital costs associated with re-establishing the farms as they were could make it even less feasible.”
Dr. David Layzell (former CEO of Kingston's BIOCAP Canada Foundation, current director of the Canadian Energy Analysis Research Initiative at the University of Calgary), suggests: "Greenhouse operations, mushroom growing, and garden crops for food production would be good. I would also like to see an anaerobic digestion facility which uses the waste from the prison (and perhaps even Kingston waste) converted into biogas that could be used to heat greenhouses and the prison itself. This is likely to be a growing industry in Canada, and therefore useful training for the inmates." http://www.evolveourprisonfarms.ca/p/expert-perspectives.html 
Feminism, intersectional justice, critical animal studies: These and other growing bodies of research shed light on the current direction of Canadian values and concerns. It would be irresponsible for the government to make a decisive move backwards to the values and practices of a past era at the very moment in social evolution when the manipulation of female reproductive systems and the exploitation of animals for taste and profit are increasingly coming under scrutiny.

We would be delighted to speak with you at your convenience about the diverse scientific, evidence-based merits of this proposal. We thank you in advance for ensuring that the government attends to these matters of national importance, and makes an informed decision.

Kind regards,

Franceen Neufeld, Calvin Neufeld, Sue Donaldson
On behalf of the Evolve coalition

c.c.    Hon. Ralph Goodale, Minister of Public Safety
         Hon. Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science
         Hon. Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development