Our OPEN LETTER TO GROWCOM & responses

We approached the CEO of Growcom, the ‘peak body representing Queensland fruit and vegetable growers’ in March 2011.  Given that it is part of their charter to encourage ‘best practice’, it was our hope that this organisation would recognise the problems existing in Greenbank and might be able to help negotiate some kind of solution.  The 2011 correspondence clearly shows that Growcom had no intention of helping us. Instead, CEO Mr Livingstone trotted out the ‘farm chemicals are heavily regulated’ line, and accused our correspondent of ‘attacking farmers’.  Our response to this letter was ignored by Mr Livingstone.

Fast forward to August 2012.  As predicted in our earlier letters to Mr Livingstone, the situation has worsened. Residents’ complaints in the local media, The Jimboomba Times, resulted in an avalanche of letters from people who do not live in Greenbank who stand to benefit from maintaining the status quo – including some vicious attacks from ‘farmers’ who have done the same thing to their neighbours in Chambers Flat. That is, no oversight on either development or chemical handling, and very little regulation, with no development applications required, and the farms being ‘self-assessable’.  We have researched this and discovered that, even if ‘self-assessable’, farmers are required to make sure they do not negatively impact on neighbouring properties.  This has not been the case. The negative impacts in Greenbank are quite clear, and substantial.  In other words, even if Logan City Council does do what the farmers want and apply an older planning scheme that uses the ‘self-assessability’ rule, these farms are clearly in contravention of the law as laid out in those Planning Schemes.

Mr Livingstone of Growcom waged a concerted campaign against residents in the JT.  (See the category, ‘Local Media Coverage’. )  To our mind, this was a classic example of a big corporate body attempting to bully the little people into silence, relying on shonky soil and water testing procedures by Biosecurity Qld/Dept of Environment and Heritage Protection, (which were then presented as ‘facts’), and demanding that all web content (including this blog and the YouTube page ‘Greenbank Cares’, which contains compelling video evidence of poisoned, paralysed and dying native birds following crop spraying) be removed. Further, Mr Livingstone kept stridently demanding that residents APOLOGISE to the farmers for our ‘unsubstantiated allegations’. 

In response, Kim Downs from The Greenbank Mozzie penned the following OPEN LETTER TO GROWCOM, and sent copies of it far and wide to ensure Mr Livingstone could not ignore it, as he had our previous correspondence.  This letter, Livingstone’s response, and OUR response to that, is presented below.  Since this ‘king hit’ by residents, Mr Livingstone has gone missing in action.  Which is just as well, as his ‘contribution’ to the debate did nothing to help either the farmers or the residents, and ended up, in our opinion, constituting a ‘circus on the side’ that ignored the real issues: residents health and safety, legislative requirements, and buffer zones.

August 14, 2012

Mr Alex Livingstone

Chief Executive Officer

Growcom

PO Box 202

Fortitude Valley, Qld 4006

Dear Mr Livingstone,

You may remember we had a brief correspondence around Feb-April 2011 in which I drew your attention to what I perceived to be a health, safety, and environmental issue related to a particular igloo-style intensive farm enterprise here in Greenbank. You were kind enough to do some investigation and responded to me in a letter dated 11th of March, 2011.  Whilst I found many points of disagreement with you I found you to be informed, polite, and a strong advocate for all farming activities.

I’ve recently been interested to read your comments published in the Jimboomba Times. Firstly, let me say that I have been very disappointed generally with the ‘level of debate’ as published in JT concerning this issue. Understandably this kind of thing is grist for the mill of any sort of media but I have found this paper has gleefully grabbed onto the more hysterical claims from both sides of the debate and continues to stir the pot more than calm the waters. I feel you have been sucked into this vortex as well. For this and other reasons I have lost hope in using the local media as a sounding board.

This is an open letter and attached is a list of recipients of hard copy versions that have probably received this letter around the same time you have. This letter is also posted on a blog at safegreenbanknow.wordpress.com.  I’ve aired my views in this fashion because after over eight years of trying to get some action, countless letters, hours on the phone, visits from compliance officers and environmental officers, meetings, more letters, etcetera, I’ve come to the conclusion that it would be best for me to address those most directly concerned sans word limits and spin. I’ve addressed the letter to you because you best represent the sorts of individuals we need to embrace if any action is ever to be taken.

I will admit I have been annoyed at some of your recent comments and respectfully hope you will allow me to point out to you where I believe some of them have been unhelpful.

Firstly, to clarify for the umpteenth time, those of us worried about the health of neighbouring families and trying to draw some attention to a handful of particularly egregious farmers DO NOT have an agenda against all farming in Greenbank. I can only speak for myself, my wife, some of my neighbours, and others who have spoken out about spray drift issues and buffer zones, and I am telling you straight, Mr Livingstone, we neither expect nor want to close down all farming in the Greenbank area. To suggest, as you did to me in your letter of March 11th, 2011 “It is disappointing that you feel the need to attack farmers…” is offensive to me as it is not only a lie, but puts a spin on the whole issue that paints anyone who dares to raise their hand and suggest that even one farmer on the planet has done something wrong is to be caricatured as some sort of misguided rube who attacks farmers.

Is this really the field of debate on which we want to attempt to solve an extremely complex problem? Misrepresenting another’s views to bolster one’s own is poor form, Mr Livingstone. Bad enough in a personal letter, but to continue with similar comments in the media is simply following up one error with a worse one. I don’t know about you, but I actually want to find a solution to this problem. If I read you correctly you don’t seem to believe that there is any problem to solve. I hope to convince you otherwise.

I’ve noticed a frequent and predictable response employed by yourself and other ‘farmer defenders’ is to bang on and on and on about how ‘heavily regulated’ the whole industry is. Of course it is. It would have to be wouldn’t it?  Incredibly toxic concentrated poisons are being diluted, decanted, and sprayed onto food crops destined for the market. No-one is disputing this fact. The ‘heavy regulation’ card is always at the ready to play again and again every time concerns are raised from any quarter.

Please indulge me while I digress with an appropriate metaphor. If we were discussing using the road system one could also say with great conviction that the ‘road rules’ are heavily regulated – as indeed they are. Speed limits, stop lights, right of way, etc.  All designed to keep drivers safe to the degree possible. But as well as these ‘strict’ regulations we also have oversight in the form of police, highway patrols, speed cameras, and even a provision for drivers to dob in other dangerous drivers.

Back in the farming sector we also have strict regulations. As you mentioned in your article in JT, “These rules include measures about protective equipment, application methods, maximum dose rates, and so on.”  All well and good.  But where is the oversight? Well, it doesn’t really exist, does it, Mr Livingstone? When farmers handle their poisons on the privacy of their farms there is no representative from Growcom looking over their shoulders to make sure they get it right. We all absolutely rely on the honesty and competence of our individual farmers to get best practice right. Before you jump to conclusions, I am not suggesting such oversight should or ever will be employed in the farming industry. It is simply impractical if nothing else.

Back to the road rules. Would you as a driver – acknowledging the heavy regulation and oversight applied to the road rules – be prepared to state from your experience that everyone that drives a car follows those rules at all times? Of course you wouldn’t! That statement would be absurd.  Yet in your personal letter to me last year you made an interesting statement. Referring to my having informed you that illegal clearing by farmers had occurred out here as witnessed by myself, my neighbours, and countless others, the only response that you could conjure was, “…we expect that growers will at all times comply with the law…”.  Oh really. Would you equally add: “and we expect that drivers will at all times comply with the law”?  Expect away, Mr Livingstone. Expect away.

As to your disinformation campaign with regard to the local use of Chlorpyrifos, I have a few comments to tender. You stated in your letter in JT of August 12th, “We are advised that the chemical in question is not being used on the crops in this area”.  Really?  Who are those mysterious advisors? Have you spoken with every farmer in the area personally?  Given your admission to me in writing sixteen months ago that the farmers in question are not Growcom members and you have no influence over them, I believe that at that time you had never contacted them and based your assumptions on the ‘advice’ of some anonymous person. That’s helpful!  Would these be the same people that told you that these farmers “are considered to be responsible operators”?

When you were examining the application and ‘extensive’ management plan for the proposed change of material use here on the Harvest Road farms, did you by chance read the 58 objections from local residents slamming the application and relating all their personal stories of pets dying, strange rashes, breathing difficulties and mysterious illnesses arising 24 hours after spraying by adjacent farms? I suggest you didn’t.  I suggest that you should. Again, you perused some paperwork and made a few phone calls. Hardly the efforts of a serious investigator.

As for your little discussion of Chlorpyrifos in JT (Aug. 12, 2012) you again used some very careful language and selective information to suggest:

1) Farmers in this area do not use this chemical (Unsubstantiated gossip);

2) The more likely culprit was the public using pesticides that contain chlorpyrifos in minute quantities (Unsubstantiated conjecture and bad science); 3) The strict control over these chemicals by authorities means they would never be abused by a farmer. (Horse excrement).

From the US National Pesticide Information Centre I quote:

‘People can be exposed to pesticides by eating them, breathing them

in, or getting them on the skin or in the eyes. You could be exposed

to chlorpyrifos if you apply products containing chlorpyrifos either as

part of your job or outside of your own home …People could be exposed to chlorpyrifos if their well water has been contaminated. This can happen if products containing chlorpyrifos were used near the well …’

The NPIC also informs us that:

‘Chlorpyrifos affects the nervous system of people, pets, and other animals the same way it affects the target pest. Signs and symptoms can appear within minutes to hours after exposure. These effects can last for days or even weeks. During

this time, the body is replacing the depleted enzymes in the nervous system so it can function normally again.

Exposure to small amounts of chlorpyrifos can cause runny nose, tears, and increased saliva or drooling. People may sweat, and develop headache, nausea, and dizziness. More serious exposures can cause vomiting, abdominal muscle

cramps, muscle twitching, tremors and weakness, and loss of coordination. Sometimes people develop diarrhea or blurred or darkened vision. In severe poisoning cases, exposure can lead to unconsciousness, loss of bladder and

bowel control, convulsions, difficulty in breathing, and paralysis.’

 

And:

‘What happens to chlorpyrifos when it enters the body?

Chlorpyrifos moves to all parts of the body after exposure. When the body tries to break it down, it creates another form called chlorpyrifos oxon. The oxon binds permanently to enzymes which control the messages that travel between

nerve cells. When chlorpyrifos binds to too many of the enzymes, nerves and muscles do not function correctly. The body then must make more enzymes so that normal nerve function can resume.

I guess this was too much information to cram into your 350 word screed in JT.  You could have also mentioned that children have been shown to be much more susceptible to toxicological effects from chlorpyrifos  than adults.  Again, from the US NPIC:

‘(Studies have shown that) Chorpyrifos exposure was linked to changes in social behavior and brain development as well as developmental delays in young laboratory animals. Other studies showed that chlorpyrifos affected the nervous system of young mice, rats, and rabbits more severely than adult animals.

Researchers studied the blood of women who were exposed to chlorpyrifos and the blood of their children from birth for three years. Children who had chlorpyrifos in their blood had more developmental delays and disorders than children who did not have chlorpyrifos in their blood. Exposed children also had more attention

deficit disorders and hyperactivity disorders.’

‘In general, children may be more sensitive to pesticides than adults.

One reason for this is that their bodies may break down pesticides

differently. Children are also more likely to be exposed to pesticides

when playing and may put their hands in their mouths more often

than adults. Children may also be more sensitive to exposures because

they have more surface area of skin for their body size than adults.’

 

Or you could have considered mentioning this study:

CHLORPYRIFOS HAZARDS TO FISH, WILDLIFE, AND InVERTEBRATES: A SYNOPTIC REVIEW By Edward W. Odenkirchen Department of Biology The American University, Washington, DC 20016 And Ronald Eisler U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Patuxent Wildlife Research Center Laurel, MD 20708

SUMMARY

Chlorpyrifos (phosphorothioic acid O, O,-diethyl 0-(3,5,6,-trichloro-2-pyridinyl) ester), an organophosphorus compound with an anticholinesterase mode of action, is used extensively in a variety of formulations to control a broad spectrum of agricultural and other pestiferous insects. Domestic use of chlorpyrifos in 1982 was about 3.6 million kg; the compound is used mostly in agriculture, but also to control mosquitos in wetlands (0.15 million kg applied to about 600,000 ha) and turf-destroying insects on golf courses (0.04 million kg).

Accidental or careless applications of chlorpyrifos have resulted in the death of many species of nontarget organisms such as fish, aquatic invertebrates, birds, and humans. Applications at recommended rates of 0.028 to 0.056 kg/surface ha for mosquito control have produced mortality, bioaccumulation, and deleterious sublethal effects in aquatic plants, zooplankton, insects, rotifers, crustaceans, waterfowl, and fish; adverse effects were also noted in bordering invertebrate populations.

Degradation rate of chloropyrifos in abiotic substrates varies, ranging from about 1 week in seawater (50% degradation) to more than 24 weeks in soils under conditions of dryness, low temperatures, reduced microbial activity, and low organic content; intermediate degradation rates reported have been 3.4 weeks for sediments and 7.6 weeks for distilled water. In biological samples, degradation time is comparatively short–usually less than 9 hours in fishes, and probably the same in birds and invertebrates.

Chlorpyrifos is acutely toxic to some species of aquatic invertebrates and teleosts at nominal water concentrations ranging between 0.035 and 1.1 ug/l. Acute single-dose oral LD-50 values of chlorpyrifos to susceptible avian species ranged from 5 to 13 mg/kg body weight. Mammals were comparatively tolerant of chlorpyrifos: acute oral LD-50’s were reported to be 151 mg/kg body weight, and higher. Lethal dietary concentrations for sensitive species of birds ranged from 30 to 50 mg chlorpyrifos/kg food. Sublethal effects were recorded in all species of organisms examined at concentrations below those causing mortality. These effects included bioconcentration from the medium by teleosts (410X to 1,000X); cholinesterase activity reduction in brain and hematopoietic tissues; reduced growth; impaired reproduction, including sterility and developmental abnormalities; motor incoordination; convulsions; and depressed population densities of aquatic invertebrates.

Three courses of action are recommended. (1) Restrict the use of chlorpyrifos for mosquito control in wetlands, estuaries, and waterfowl breeding areas because recommended treatment levels are demonstrably harmful to nontarget resident biota. (2) Curtail agricultural use in watershed areas pending acquisition of additional data on chlorpyrifos toxicokinetics. (3) Develop suitable replacements for chlorpyrifos in mosquito control programs; specifically, pesticides with more specificity to target organisms, and lower toxicity to nontarget biota.

Odenkirchen, E. W., and R. Eisler. 1988. Chlorpyrifos hazards to fish, wildlife, and invertebrates: a synoptic review. U.S. Fish Wildl. Serv. Biol. Rep. 85(1.13).

2

I could fill pages with testimonials from the web about the danger, misuse, and chemical bio-accumulation of chlorpyrifos including scathing reviews from the American EPA. But, clearly, this is really information that you would prefer the general public were not privy to.

Again, from the US NPIC:

‘What happens to chlorpyrifos in the environment?

When chlorpyrifos gets into the soil, it can take weeks to years for all of the chlorpyrifos to break down. Chlorpyrifos in the soil may be broken down by ultraviolet light and chemicals in the soil. Soil temperature and pH level may also affect how long chlorpyrifos stays in the soil. Chlorpyrifos will break down more slowly in acidic soils than in basic soils.

Once chlorpyrifos is in the soil, it sticks very strongly to soil particles. Plant roots won’t usually pick it up, and it won’t easily get into groundwater. Chlorpyrifos may wash into rivers or streams if erosion moves the treated soil. One of the breakdown products of chlorpyrifos, called TCP, does not bind to soil and may get into groundwater. Most of the chlorpyrifos applied to plant leaves will evaporate, but some may remain for 10 to 14 days. Chlorpyrifos or the chemicals it breaks into may get into the atmosphere and travel long distances. Researchers found chlorpyrifos in

indoor air, dust, carpets, and on children’s toys in homes where products with chlorpyrifos in them had been used.

Can chlorpyrifos affect birds, fish, or other wildlife?

Chlorpyrifos is very toxic to many bird species such as grackles and pigeons,

and it is moderately toxic to others such as mallard ducks. Mallard ducks

fed chlorpyrifos laid fewer eggs and raised fewer ducklings. The eggshells

were thinner than normal, and many of the young ducklings died. Of all

birds, robins are most often found dead following accidents involving chlorpyrifos

use.

Chlorpyrifos is also very toxic to fish and aquatic invertebrates. It may build

up in the tissues of fish and other animals that eat smaller animals. This is

known as bioaccumulation.

Chlorpyrifos is very toxic to bees. It can poison non-target insects for up to

24 hours after it is sprayed. Chlorpyrifos can be toxic to earthworms for up

to 2 weeks after it is applied to soil.’

 

Chlorypyrifos is very toxic to birds, bees, and aquatic invertebrates. Birds and bees, eh, Mr Livingstone? Given Greenbank has recently experienced bird and bee deaths near farms does this all seem far-fetched to you?  I will here proffer my own theory about the recent magpie deaths. From what I’ve been able to observe first hand, the intensive farming enterprises out here are fond of culling their fruit as they see individual ‘units’ that they could not take to market.  In the case of farms near here growing cucumbers, the usual practice is to throw all useless fruit onto a massive exposed pile where it festers and breaks down attracting insects, birds, and small mammals. Spray today, toss the sprayed fruit into a fetid pile where omnivorous magpies either eat the fruit directly or the poisoned insects who have done the same. There is your magpie death scenario. I really wish you would cease and desist from blaming innocent people and ‘activists’ for drawing attention to what is clearly a result of bad farming practice.

Ultimately, all of the sparring and conjecture about what killed the magpies, how regulated we all are, how safe or not sundry organophosphate pesticides are, whether people living adjacent to some farms have or have not already had their health compromised, whether farmers are being unfairly targeted or unfairly protected blah blah – to me, all of this swirling dust storm of debate is a distraction from the central issue. And THAT I find disturbing!

There is a well-known strategy often referred to as ‘calculated omission’. Politicians are masters of it, as are lawyers and activists of all stripes. In fact, you’re pretty good at it yourself.  Calculated omission is a strategy whereby the individual employing this tactic attempts to avoid at all costs discussing a particular facet of a complex argument that – if widely known and understood – would severely undermine his position. If the debate appears in danger of straying into the verboten subject, a snowstorm of factual but irrelevant side issues is created to force the opposition to waste time dealing with tangential discussions. I fear that I have fallen victim to this tactic in the past, but not any more.

A person in your position could hardly have been unaware of the State Planning Policy 1/92, Development and the Conservation of Agricultural Land. A subset of the policy (Policy Principal No. 8) Planning Guidelines : Separating Agricultural and Residential Land Uses, was prepared by the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Local Government and Planning in consultation with a reference group formed from representatives of the following bodies:

Local Government Association of Queensland

Queensland Farmers Federation

CANEGROWERS

Australian Cotton Foundation

Queensland Pork Producer’s Organisation

Queensland Dairy Farmer’s Association

Queensland Grain Growers Council

Queensland Conservation Council

Australian Sugar Milling Council

Urban Development Institute of Australia

Royal Australian Planning Institute

Land Resources Consultants

Department of Environment

Department of Primary industries

Quite an august list of participants – don’t you think?  Oh yeah, and one more organisation was listed called ‘Queensland Fruit and Vegetable Growers’.  Hmmm.  That’s very similar to Growcom’s company title which is ‘Queensland Fruit and Vegetable Growers Ltd’.  Could it be that your own organisation was instrumental in developing a policy on buffer zones separating residential properties from agricultural enterprises way back in the mid-90’s? And given that your company name appears on the front page of the Planning Guidelines as a consultant group, wouldn’t that imply that said guidelines are actually the guidelines that Growcom accepts today?

As you are well aware,  these Planning Guidelines lay down a rule that farms should be separated from surrounding residences by a buffer zone not less than 40 metres wide (if it is heavily vegetated and irrigated) and 300 metres if it is across open country. These distances were determined to be the minimum necessary to counteract harmful effects from spray drift. You know this. I know this. Logan Council is well aware as it has been the primary thing our side has been banging on about for years.

In fact you might remember a letter of mine that was published in the Jimboomba Times upbraiding Logan Council for dragging their feet on this very issue. My letter was by no means the first to raise this point. Being distracted by barbs flying from all sides, it took me awhile to notice a very curious thing. No-one from Council, not the Mayor, nor Councillor Pigeon, nor any farmer that has spoken up, nor yourself for that matter, have ever been prepared – in a public forum – to even utter the words ‘buffer zones’.  In fact, despite asking you for Growcom’s views on this issue in my original letter to you, you never actually responded on that point. You avoided it. Even back then. You still do.

Despite avoiding this specific discussion, this does not prevent you from pretending that you are trying to follow the rules you yourself helped develop. To wit, your comment in your personal letter to me:  “We accept and strongly support regulations placed on peri-urban farming activity by the Council, State, and Commonwealth authorities”. I’m sorry, but from my perspective, clearly you do not.

Why is that exactly? I’ll dispense with being coy now and pull the curtain back from the elephant in the room. Logan Council has now found itself the proud owner of many farms from the previous Beaudesert Council area. Many of these have been crammed onto small blocks barely 50 metres wide and a hundred metres long. Every square inch of many of them are covered in igloos. To impose the suggested buffer zones on these farms would be impossible.  Is it Logan Council’s fault that this situation exists? Of course not. They were handed a poison chalice in the fallout from the amalgamations. I care nothing for the blame game. I’m focussed on the truth and making sure it is widely disseminated.

The truth is this. Logan Council is between a rock and a hard place in trying to be seen to support and advocate for best practice farming methods as developed by the state and sundry farmers groups filled with individuals precisely like yourself. These are in fact, your regulations.  So if Logan Council tried to adopt the logical, empirically proven, progressive and correct path of accepting and implementing your recommended buffer zones, then many farms in the area would have to be shut down as there is no space available for even ¼ the minimum recommendation needed. Hmmm. Can’t you just hear the lawyers sharpening their pencils? No wonder the words ‘buffer zones’ haunt many a Logan Councillors’ dreams. Perhaps they haunt your own as well?

I’d like to move on from how the debate has been conducted thus far. I hate the hysterics. I cringe at the inflammatory rhetoric and misguided irrelevancies. Can we, Mr Livingstone, be civilized men of the world for a moment and ponder some of the real nuts and bolts of the problem in the hope we can actually grope towards some solution? Some out there seem more intent on trying to paint myself and my neighbours as a mob of misguided stirrers that don’t understand science or critical thinking and that can be railroaded into silence by the constant repetition of ‘farmer bashing’ and ‘heavily regulated’. I’m afraid they have the wrong impression of us. We are not stupid .We are not going away. We will not be silenced.

This is happening to our homes. This is personal. You, Mr Livingstone, don’t have to live with it. You haven’t suddenly developed asthma. Your dog hasn’t died. Your child hasn’t experienced a rash of strange symptoms. It is very easy to pontificate from afar when one is not directly affected.

Another point on which I take issue with you is the ‘original intent’ of those who envisioned the ‘Rural-residential’ lifestyle in this area. It is probably true that they expected farms to peacefully co-exist with residential properties. However, I submit that they had in mind small open-field hobby farms, not the industrial-style hydroponic industries that have sprung up in the region over the past decade. Crammed – as they are – onto small blocks with insufficient buffer zones, they present an ugly, smelly, repellent, and- yes –dangerous neighbour. Would you approve of a panel-beating shop being set adjacent to a crèche? Do you think it is a good idea to set up a paint-making factory next to an elementary school. How about a steel fabrication shop next to an old people’s home? These hypothetical examples present a similar problem to what many are facing out here in Greenbank who live adjacent to these ‘farming industries’.

I don’t quite understand all the motivations of those who continue to lash out at us. All we’re saying is that some farms are ill-placed in that they cannot help but pollute the creeks they sit above and directly adjacent to; others are simply poorly-run and pose a health hazard.  Beyond that, we share the same exact goals that you do:  safe successful local farms putting out a good product. I’m not playing some mind game with you. You and I would agree on the vast majority of issues concerning farmers. I have no doubt that that is the case.

As difficult as all of the above is to solve – it gets worse. But before we go there let me relate a personal story. When we moved out here in 2000, my wife and I were very charmed by the little open-field farm on the corner of Begley and Farm Rd. They were growing cherry tomatoes and had a bumper crop going. We could see that the field workers were Asian by their hats and subsequently found out they were Vietnamese. They clearly lived on the block in the adjacent house and ran a tidy little operation. We took great interest in the farm whenever we passed. We waved and they waved back. We were – as I said – charmed and delighted to have such an operation nearby. We still are. These farmers are no trouble to anyone, obviously work hard, and in my view are totally an asset to the community.

Would that they were all like that. I am now going to tell you some things that you may or may not know. To be perfectly frank I loathe to walk through this minefield as it is an area where hysterics reign, emotions boil over, and litigation thrives. But in the spirit of candour and because I believe that, in you, I have an individual that isn’t afraid of hearing some hard truths, I’ll step in.

You – of course – would be aware that many of the farmers in this area are Vietnamese.  Cultural differences are difficult to navigate at the best of times. Throw in a language barrier and mix it up with toxic chemicals, bad development approvals, bird kills, polluted drinking water, dodgy builders certifiers, and the criminal underground and you have a witches brew.

I do not think that in your heart of hearts you are incapable of believing that some farmers might be incompetent, criminal, negligent, or ruthless. Last time I looked, farmers were human beings, not angels. In order to be able to at least talk about this without inflaming passions, let us refer to the handful of problematic farmers I’m about to describe as ‘bad apples’.  I sincerely believe that the vast majority of farmers, Vietnamese and otherwise, are honest, hardworking, careful, salt-of-the earth types. I know because I’ve met many of them over the years. I respect the hell out of them. It’s a hard way to make a living. Unfortunately there are some bad apples.

The particular bad apples that have infested this neck of the woods have agendas that go far beyond farming. I hope you realize this and do not think I’m indulging myself in hyperbole.  I will describe some ‘events’ that have occurred out here in the last fifteen years, just on Begley, Farm, and Harvest Roads alone. Feel free to check for yourself . Tin sheds blowing up from incompetent meth-lab cookers on farms. Farmers being investigated by the cops and busted with cock-fighting spurs, wads of cash, and drugs. Farmers illegally clearing trees, then filling in Crewes Creek with dozers, then erecting igloos with no development applications and utilizing improper construction techniques. (This lot were forced to pull the igloos down in the end, but only as a result of residents’ lobbying.) . Farmers digging massive holes adjacent to fencelines. They then fill the holes with waste plastic, empty drums, sundry garbage, and cover it with a thin layer of dirt. Come the next big rain event the whole mass slides under the fence and onto their neighbours’ property. Farmers who defecate on neighbour’s properties, wipe themselves and walk away without covering it up. They do this because there are no toilet facilities on the farms in contravention of health and safety laws. I have access to video footage showing petite women or young girls handling chemicals inside the igloos dressed in a plastic garbage bag with a hole punched in for the head and barefooted. You would know about the chemical drum washing down Crewes Creek a couple of years ago.  Some of these charmers have even hung around the gate of neighbours who had complained, brandishing machetes in an obvious intimidation gesture. People have had their dogs baited and killed.  It is an open secret that the bad apples out here are part of the Vietnamese Criminal Underworld and some of these farms are nothing more prosaic than simple money laundering exercises. I believe the bad apples are in the minority, but they are here.

This is what we are dealing with out here, Mr Livingstone.  This is bad shit. No-one wants this kind of thing out here.  What does this have to do with farming?  Does it occur to you that when in a blanket fashion in the press you dismiss our concerns and go to bat for ‘the farmers’ that you are going to bat for these scoundrels as well? Those of us who have been suffering from these odious offences and watching these cowboys destroy the environment and shit on our properties for a decade or so aren’t real impressed when you pipe up in the press and suggest that we should apologize to them.  Pardon my French, Mr Livingstone, but are you fucking kidding me? I’ll consider an apology after the residents of Greenbank receive your public apology for misrepresenting people’s concerns, muddying the water with irrelevant data, blaming the victims while protecting the guilty, and refusing to implement your own guidelines.

I could continue to tell you stories from my own personal experience and those of my neighbours that would curl your hair.  Hell, I could fill pages. The other offensive aspect to this whole sordid mess is that the bad apples don’t even live out here. They commute from suburban Brisbane, foul our nest with their chemical clouds, give us the finger and wave machetes at us. It would be more than fair comment to add that they clearly do not give a flying you-know-what about the environment, their own farm, and particularly whether their neighbours are upset, or have legitimate complaints. And in case you’re wondering, some of the affected neighbours have tried befriending the miscreants only to eventually be treated to a cocktail of disdain and threats. I myself have Vietnamese friends who are not part of the criminal underworld and even they caution us about speaking up. Do you at least understand what we are up against here?  Nothing I have written above is either made up or embellished.

As you commented to me in your personal letter, these farmers do not belong to Growcom and I realize you have no direct influence on them. For the many years I have watched this tragedy unfold I have pondered all possible tracks to take to de-fuse this. There simply has to be a way through. My original letter to you was me reaching out for help – even in unlikely quarters. Unfortunately, I felt like your response consisted largely of spouting out the usual platitudes about ‘heavy regulation’, coupled with a slap down accusation of me ‘attacking farmers’, and that was about it. After that letter and your epistles in JT I realized you hadn’t changed your stripes and were still trying to paint anyone who expressed a fear about a bad apple farmer as being a science-deprived misguided activist who should just shut up in light of your superior expertise. Please, Mr Livingstone, we are not the enemy. We are as concerned with best practice as you are and simply want the bad apples reined in.

My sincerest hope is that my latest reaching out effort will have a more positive effect on you than my previous attempt and that I might be able to at least convince you to stop misrepresenting our views in the paper and man-up and actually give us the wisdom of your opinion regarding ‘buffer zones’ in Greenbank.  That would be a good start and if this letter realizes those two simple goals I will consider myself to have actually accomplished something by penning this overlong diatribe. I am always happy to exchange views with you in a civil manner and look forward to future communications.

Respectfully yours,

Kim Downs

PS. So now we are off to SUPPORT FARMERS and the LOCK THE GATE ALLIANCE in protesting against CSG Development in our prime farming land in SE Qld.  Anti-farmer, eh?  No, just pro-health and safety.   Ours.

A response from Growcom   23/8/2012

We agree that there are serious land use conflicts in areas where farmers and residents coexist. These conflicts often have no obvious and easy solutions. Growcom, and other farming groups, are actively engaged in a planning reform process that will improve relationships between competing interests over time. Our organisation was involved in consultation regarding State Planning Policy SPP1/92. As an industry, we are disappointed that the policy has not been more effective in improving outcomes in areas where agricultural land use is in close proximity to rural residential development.

The current conflict over land use in Greenbank is a planning issue and should be dealt with in the appropriate forum. For the example given in the open letter, the landowner applied for planning approval, as he is required to do under the local government’s planning regulations. A large number of residents lodged submissions, as they are entitled to do. The local Government considered the provided information and rejected the application. The landowner has appealed that decision, as he is entitled to do. Growcom’s position is, and always has been, that this process should be allowed to continue impartially without unsubstantiated allegations being made which are clearly designed to influence the outcome.

For some time now, a number of resident groups have been publishing their complaints about local horticultural producers in letters to the editor in the Jimboomba Times. In recent weeks, these letters have focussed on the poisoning of local native birds, and have directly accused one particular grower of being the source of the poisoning. Growcom sought to correct some of the misinformation contained in these letters by using the same channel. This has resulted in an exchange of letters over the last four or five weeks.

In these letters, Growcom argued that these groups should refrain from making unsubstantiated allegations until investigations have been completed, and that an apology was owed to growers.

The Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (DEHP) has now completed tests which reveal, quite clearly, that the farm was not the source of the contamination. The Department detected no dangerous levels of the specific chemical implicated in these bird deaths, nor any similar pesticides, in soil, water, or farm storage. Once these results were available, we repeated our request for an apology and also asked that the groups cease making false allegations and remove existing material from the internet.

Not only have these groups refused to apologise, they have now escalated and diversified their campaign by repeating these same false allegations via new avenues (e.g. this safegreenbanknow blog and the open letter). Sections of this blog contain additional accusations of illegal behaviour, cover-ups and, bizarrely, personality disorders.

The wider Greenbank community will recognise that the Safe Living Action Group, GreenbankCares, Greenbank Mozzie and Safegreenbanknow are all the work of a small number of individuals with a wider agenda.

Growcom supports responsible and sustainable farming practices, but there are limits to our role as an industry association. We are not an authority and we cannot enforce laws or industry codes. There are other authorities that do have the power to investigate and enforce laws, as the DEHP has done in this case. For agricultural chemical issues, the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) has the responsibility for regulations and enforcement; Growcom fully supports the APVMA in this role.

The bottom line is: Where local laws and/or development approval conditions are not being met by growers, Council should pursue these matters. If neighbours suspect the misuse of chemicals on farms, they should notify the relevant government authorities. If neighbours suspect illegal activities are occurring on horticultural farms, the matters should be referred to the police. And, if an official investigation reveals that a complaint is unfounded, this should be acknowledged and an apology issued.

We encourage all recipients of this letter to explore the full content of the Greenbank Mozzie blog and the various groups’ social media sites. These detail a number of complaints against the area’s growers and Growcom, and are instructive in revealing the agendas and motives of the complainants. One thing that is abundantly clear is that no amount of evidence, reason or logic is likely to change these individuals’ minds.

Yours sincerely,

Alex Livingstone
CEO, Growcom

OUR RESPONSE TO THE ‘RESPONSE FROM GROWCOM’

YES, MR LIVINGSTONE, WE ARE ALSO DISAPPOINTED SPP1/92 HAS NOT BEEN MORE EFFECTIVE. AND WE ARE HAPPY TO SEE YOU AT LAST ACKNOWLEDGE THAT ‘THERE ARE SERIOUS LAND USE CONFLICTS IN AREAS WHERE FARMERS AND RESIDENTS COEXIST’. WE MAINTAIN THE ANSWER IS BUFFER AREAS, AS OUTLINED IN THE GUIDELINES DEVELOPED IN CONJUNCTION WITH SPP1/92. AND YES, WE HAVE BEEN SAYING FOR A VERY LONG TIME THAT IT IS A PLANNING ISSUE. BUT MISCHIEVOUS MEDIA COMMENTS FROM BOTH YOU AND CR PIDGEON, IMPLYING WE ARE ANTI-FARMER, RACIST, OR HAVE SOME OTHER AGENDA, HAVE CAUSED THIS PUBLIC DEBATE TO ESCALATE, WHEN ALL WE HAVE BEEN CALLING FOR IS FOR THE PLANNING POWERS-THAT-BE TO RECOGNISE THE DIFFICULTIES WE ARE LIVING WITH AND DO SOMETHING TO ADDRESS THEM, INSTEAD OF SWEEPING THEM UNDER THE CARPET.

THIS STRUGGLE HAS BEEN GOING ON FOR EIGHT LONG YEARS. I WONDER IF YOU WOULD FEEL DIFFERENTLY IF THIS WAS HAPPENING RIGHT NEXT DOOR TO YOUR HOME; IF YOUR DOG SUDDENLY BECAME PARALYSED AND YOU HAD TO SPEND THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS TO SAVE ITS LIFE, (I CAN ATTEST TO THREE OCCASIONS QUITE RECENTLY WHERE THIS HAS HAPPENED IN FARM ROAD, HARVEST ROAD, AND BACKWATER ROAD); IF YOUR CHILDREN SUDDENLY DEVELOPED UNEXPLAINED ALLERGIES AND ILLNESSES; IF YOU HAD TO SHUT ALL YOUR DOORS AND WINDOWS ON A HOT DAY TO KEEP NOXIOUS CHEMICAL SPRAYS FROM THE NEIGHBOURING PROPERTY OUT OF YOUR HOME; IF YOU WERE KEPT AWAKE FOR NIGHTS ON END BY LIGHTS AND HEAVY MACHINERY OPERATING TWENTY METRES FROM YOUR BEDROOM.
I SUGGEST YOU NEED TO READ THE 56+ RESIDENTS’ OBJECTIONS TO THE MATERIAL CHANGE OF USE APPLICATION THAT IS CURRENTLY BEING CONTESTED  – THEY MAKE VERY SOBERING READING AND, QUITE FRANKLY, ANYONE WHO READS THEM AND DOESN’T FEEL EMPATHY FOR WHAT SO MANY RESIDENTS IN THIS AREA HAVE ENDURED, FOR SO LONG, COULD FEASIBLY BE SUSPECTED OF NARCISSISM.

I AGREE WITH YOUR STATEMENT THAT THE ‘PROCESS SHOULD BE ALLOWED TO CONTINUE IMPARTIALLY WITHOUT UNSUBSTANTIATED ALLEGATIONS BEING MADE – WHICH IS WHY THE RESIDENTS OF GREENBANK HAVE FOUND SO MANY OF THE FALSE ACCUSATIONS AGAINST US IN YOUR AND CR PIDGEON’S RECENT REMARKS OFFENSIVE. I WOULD ALSO LIKE TO POINT OUT THAT THE SUBMISSION PROCESS ITSELF WAS NOT AS TRANSPARENT AS IT SEEMS. THE TOWN PLANNER WHO REPRESENTS THESE PARTICULAR FARMERS HAD PAPERWORK APPROVED BY LOGAN CITY COUNCIL AS COMPLYING WITH THE SUSTAINABLE PLANNING ACT. EVIDENCE WAS PRESENTED TO PROVE THAT PUBLIC NOTICE OF THE DEVELOPMENT APPLICATION WAS PUBLISHED IN THE LOCAL MEDIA. BUT IF YOU LOOK AT OUR FILE OF THE PUBLIC’S SUBMISSIONS, WHERE THIS PAPERWORK IS INCLUDED, YOU WILL SEE THAT THESE ‘PUBLIC NOTICES’ WERE PUBLISHED IN THE ‘BEAUDESERT TIMES’, WHICH WE DO NOT RECEIVE HERE, INSTEAD OF THE ‘JIMBOOMBA TIMES’, WHICH IS DELIVERED TO EVERY HOME. WHEN AN EXTENSION TO THE COMMENT PERIOD WAS GRANTED, THIS INDEPENDENT TOWN PLANNER AGAIN PUBLISHED NOTICES IN THE ‘BEAUDESERT TIMES’, KNOWING FULL WELL THAT LOCAL RESIDENTS WOULD BE UNLIKELY TO SEE IT.

I ALSO KNOW THAT THIS INDIVIDUAL APPROACHED THE PEOPLE WHO LIVE NEXT DOOR TO THE PROPERTY IN QUESTION, WHO ARE IN THEIR EIGHTIES AND HAVE LIVED HERE FOR OVER 25 YEARS, TO NOTIFY THEM OF THE D.A., AS THE LAW REQUIRES. BUT THIS PERSON ALSO MADE A POINT OF TELLING THEM THAT ‘YOU’D BETTER HAVE A LOT OF MONEY IF YOU WANT TO CONTEST THIS APPLICATION’. AS IT IS THE COUNCIL, NOT THESE ELDERLY RESIDENTS, WHO IN THIS SITUATION WOULD HAVE TO BEAR ANY COSTS, THIS SEEMS LIKE AN ATTEMPT TO INTIMIDATE AND SILENCE THEM. THIS IS UNCONSCIONABLE AND UNPROFESSIONAL BEHAVIOUR, AND CAUSED OUR NEIGHBOURS SOME DISTRESS. IF WE HAVE ANY OTHER ‘AGENDA’, BEYOND THAT OUTLINED ABOVE, IT IS TO STOP THIS SORT OF BULLYING.

IF GROWCOM IS ‘NOT AN AUTHORITY AND … CANNOT ENFORCE LAWS OR INDUSTRY CODES’, THEN GROWCOM MUST BE JUST A TOOTHLESS TIGER WITH NO REAL POWER IN THESE MATTERS. SO WHAT ARE YOU DOING EVEN WEIGHING INTO THIS? WE FEEL YOU HAD ALREADY DECIDED AT THE OUTSET THAT WE WERE ‘ANTI FARMER’ AND THAT YOU THEREFORE HAD TO DEFEND THE LOCAL FARMERS AGAINST US – WHEN ALL WE WERE ASKING IS THAT YOU USE YOUR INFLUENCE TO HELP US IN REACHING SOME KIND OF WORKABLE SOLUTION. WHEN WE CONTACTED YOU IN MARCH 2011, ASKING FOR YOUR COMMENTS ON THIS MATTER, YOU COULD HAVE ASSISTED US BY DIRECTING US TO THE APVMA, BUT YOU DIDN’T – INSTEAD YOU ACCUSED MR DOWNS OF ‘ATTACKING FARMERS’.

THIS ‘ANTI FARMER’ RHETORIC HAS BEEN A FEATURE OF BOTH YOUR AND CR PIDGEON’S MEDIA COMMENTS FOR WEEKS NOW – THIS SIEGE MENTALITY WAS NOT AT ALL HELPFUL AND SIMPLY SERVED TO INFLAME PASSIONS ON BOTH SIDES.

YOU WRITE, ‘The bottom line is: Where local laws and/or development approval conditions are not being met by growers, Council should pursue these matters. If neighbours suspect the misuse of chemicals on farms, they should notify the relevant government authorities. If neighbours suspect illegal activities are occurring on horticultural farms, the matters should be referred to the police. And, if an official investigation reveals that a complaint is unfounded, this should be acknowledged and an apology issued.’

THAT’S TRUE, AND WE HAVE BEEN LOBBYING COUNCIL OVER THESE MATTERS FOR MANY YEARS. GOVERNMENT AUTHORITIES HAVE BEEN NOTIFIED OF CHEMICAL MISUSE ISSUES BY RESIDENTS MANY TIMES. THE RSPCA, BIOSECURITY QLD, & COUNCIL COMPLIANCE OFFICERS HAVE ALL BEEN CALLED IN A NUMBER OF TIMES, BUT NOTHING HAS CHANGED. THIS IS WHY THESE CHEMICAL MISUSE EVENTS HAVE CONTINUED TO OCCUR.

AS FAR AS CRIMINAL ACTIVITY IS CONCERNED, THE POLICE HAVE BEEN NOTIFIED WHERE APPLICABLE, AND IN ONE NOTABLE CASE A ‘FARM’ IN FARM ROAD A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO WAS PROSECUTED FOR RUNNING A COCKFIGHTING OPERATION, A METHAMPHETAMINE LAB, AND WELFARE FRAUD. THANKFULLY, AFTER THIS, THEY LEFT OUR NEIGHBORHOOD.

ANOTHER FARM ON BEGLEY ROAD HAD THEIR DAM SEARCHED BY POLICE DIVERS A FEW YEARS AGO IN A DAWN RAID OVER SUSPECTED HEROIN TRAFFICKING. NOTHING WAS FOUND, BUT THE FARM IN QUESTION WAS LATER ISSUED WITH A SHOW CAUSE NOTICE BY COUNCIL OVER THEIR ILLEGALLY CONSTRUCTED GREENHOUSES (NO D.A.). THEY CHOSE NOT TO RESPOND, AND INSTEAD DISMANTLED THE GREENHOUSES (WHICH IMPLIES THEY KNEW THEIR ACTIONS WERE ILLEGAL AND THEY COULD NOT WIN). WE BELIEVE THEY WERE ALSO FINED FOR USING BULLDOZERS TO FILL IN CREWES CREEK – PHOTOS AND AN ACCOUNT OF THIS APPEARS ON THIS SITE. WE, OF COURSE, BEING SOME 200 METRES UPSTREAM FROM THIS ‘FILLING IN’ RECEIVED NO COMPENSATION FROM THE OFFENDERS FOR OUR LOSSES WHEN THE CREEK BROKE ITS BANKS AND FLOODED OUR HOUSE, WIPING OUT THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS WORTH OF TOOLS AND EQUIPMENT, AS WELL AS TREASURED PERSONAL POSSESSIONS.

WE WOULD BE QUITE HAPPY TO ISSUE AN APOLOGY IF ONE WAS WARRANTED. HOWEVER, AS STATED IN THE THREE STATEMENTS ABOVE YOUR POST, WE HAVE LITTLE FAITH IN THE TESTING PROCESS BECAUSE OF THE TIME LAPSE BETWEEN THE BIRD POISONING EVENT AND THE TESTING. DURING THE INTERIM, WE AND OUR NEIGHBOURS OBSERVED THESE NIGHTTIME ACTIVITIES – EXCESSIVE WATERING, TOPSOIL REMOVAL, AND REPLACEMENT OF SOIL VIA TRUCKS – MAKING THE TEST RESULTS COMPLETELY MEANINGLESS. IF THE DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENT AND HERITAGE PROTECTION TAKES 6 WEEKS TO RESPOND, ALLOWING THE SUSPECTED OFFENDERS TO COVER THEIR TRACKS, WHAT FAITH CAN WE HAVE IN THEIR RESULTS?  FOR YOU TO THEN USE THESE MEANINGLESS, SUCH BODGY RESULTS TO FURTHER ATTACK THE RESIDENTS AND DEMAND THAT WE APOLOGISE TO THESE ‘FARMERS’ IS BEYOND THE PALE.

YOU WRITE: “We encourage all recipients of this letter to explore the full content of the Greenbank Mozzie blog and the various groups’ social media sites. These detail a number of complaints against the area’s growers and Growcom, and are instructive in revealing the agendas and motives of the complainants. One thing that is abundantly clear is that no amount of evidence, reason or logic is likely to change these individuals’ minds.”

NO, MR LIVINGSTONE, THIS IS INFLAMMATORY AND UNTRUE. THE ONLY AGENDA WE HAVE IS TO DEMAND THAT LOGAN CITY COUNCIL ENFORCE THE STATE GOVERNMENT GUIDELINES WITH RESPECT TO BUFFER AREAS BETWEEN HORTICULTURE AND RURAL RESIDENCES. WE WANT TO LIVE HERE IN SAFETY. CLEARLY THE GUIDELINES ARE PROBLEMATIC FOR THE FARMS WHICH ARE INAPPROPRIATELY PLACED; IF THE GUIDELINES ARE ENFORCED SOME FARMS IN THIS AREA WILL NO LONGER BE ABLE TO OPERATE. IF IT IS FOUND THAT THEY WERE SET UP WITHOUT DEVELOPMENT APPROVAL, THEY SHOULD BE SHUT DOWN, IN THE SAME WAY AS RESIDENTS WOULD BE FORCED TO DEMOLISH STRUCTURES BUILT ON OUR PROPERTIES WITHOUT APPROVAL. IF IT IS FOUND THAT THESE FARMS ARE LEGAL, AND THAT PLANNING DEPARTMENTS IN COUNCIL (EITHER BCC OR LCC) ACTED IN ERROR IN ISSUING THOSE APPROVALS, WE BELIEVE COUNCIL SHOULD DO THE RIGHT THING BY THESE HARD-WORKING FARMERS – BUY BACK THE LAND AND PROPERLY COMPENSATE THEM SO THEY CAN SET UP NEW OPERATIONS IN MORE APPROPRIATE LOCATIONS.

WE ARE STILL WAITING FOR YOU TO CONVINCE US BY YOUR ‘EVIDENCE, REASON AND LOGIC’ – BUT WE HAVE SEEN NO EVIDENCE BEYOND UNRELIABLE TEST RESULTS AND VILIFICATION OF RESIDENTS IN THE MEDIA. UNFORTUNATELY WE CONTINUE TO SEE PEOPLE WHO DO NOT LIVE HERE ATTEMPTING TO DISCREDIT RESIDENTS, IGNORING OUR REPORTED OBSERVATIONS, VILIFYING AND INSULTING US, AND, WITH NO EVIDENCE, ACCUSING US OF BEING AN ‘ACTIVIST GROUP’ (WHEN WE ARE SIMPLY PEOPLE WHO LIVE HERE WHO TALK TO EACH OTHER).

WE HAVE REPEATEDLY BEEN ACCUSED OF BEING ‘ANTI-FARMER’ (WHEN IT IS THE PLANNING ISSUES, NOT THE FARMERS, WE TAKE ISSUE WITH) AND, BY IMPLICATION, ‘DELIBERATE BIRD POISONERS’ (WORDS FAIL ME)! THESE COMMENTS HAVE BEEN QUITE UNHELPFUL, AND HAVE INFLAMED THE DEBATE IN A NEGATIVE WAY. ALL WE HAVE BEEN SEEKING IS A SOLUTION TO A SITUATION THAT IS CLEARLY IN CONTRAVENTION OF THE GUIDELINES, AND FOR WHICH WE HAVE STRONG, OBSERVED EVIDENCE OF THE DANGERS TO THE HEALTH OF THE PEOPLE AND WILDLIFE THAT LIVE HERE.

THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR COMMENTING ON OUR BLOG. WE WELCOME YOUR INSIGHTS, AND FEEL WE ARE ACTUALLY IN AGREEMENT MORE THAN WE DISAGREE. IF YOU CAN HELP US IN LOBBYING LOGAN CITY COUNCIL TO ADOPT AND IMPLEMENT STATE GOVERNMENT GUIDELINES RELATING TO SPP1/92, WE WOULD BE MORE THAN GRATEFUL. IN FACT, WE’D BE DELIGHTED TO BUY YOU A FEW BEERS!
CHEERS
LIZ HALL-DOWNS

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