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Federal agriculture budget cuts worrisome, but BC lab move welcomed

The chair of the British Columbia Wine Grape Council said that while he is worried about the federal government's cuts to the agriculture budget, he welcomes the plan to close the Centre for Plant Health on Vancouver Island and move its activities to a research station in the Okanagan.

Canadian Food Inspection Agency spokesperson Guy Gravelle said in an April 13 email to The Tyee that activities done at the laboratory in Sidney will be moved to the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada research station in Summerland.

"No changes to levels of service will result from this change," Gravelle said. "Combining CFIA and AAFC expertise at one facility in Summerland BC will provide enhanced capacity to serve the grapevine and tree fruit industries."

The move will mean the work done by the agency will be "carried out in a better-equipped facility with a larger pool of scientists working together," he said.

BCWGC Chair Hans Buchler said he was glad to hear CFIA plans to maintain the same level of service. "If that is really true I wouldn't have any concern," he said. "Quite the contrary."

He said he hopes combining the AAFC and CFIA employees in one facility will simplify processes for growers and noted that there is land available to expand the facility in Summerland, with the caveat that there may still be a need for consulation with the local first nation.

The activities being moved from Saanich include quarantine for some of the vines and trees being imported to Canada.

"I don't think the risk would be bigger in Summerland than in Saanich," Buchler said when asked about moving that work to the major fruit and wine region in the Okanagan.

The CFIA runs very professional laboratories, he said. "There are protocols in place to ensure there is nothing that could leave the facility . . . I really don't think that would be an issue."

A representative of the B.C. Fruit Growers' Association didn't respond to a call by publication time.

About 40 people work at the Centre for Plant Health in Sidney and at least 14 of them have been offered positions in Summerland.

Buchler said he is more concerned about the 10 percent cut the federal government has made to the broader agriculture budget which he said comes at a bad time for the sector.

The research station at Agassiz has been hit hard as have some of the smaller research stations around the province, he said. While it remains to be seen what the effect is, "This is in the longterm not a good idea," he said, noting studies in things like plant breeding can take decades and need continuous support.

And studies, for example, of sustainable practices aimed at reducing pesticide or fertilizer use are best done in public labs since they are unlikely to be done in the private sector, he said.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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