Recently the Conference Board of Canada released a document that purports to lay out the framework for a National Food Strategy for Canada. Those of a cynical nature, noting the over-supply of a bewildering variety of every type of food product flooding grocery stores and food outlets across this country, might wonder what the problem is that requires a national strategy. It would seem that compared to a hundred years ago we have the safest, most secure, most available and cheapest food supply anywhere in the world. That was all achieved without a national food strategy. The report seems to imply that food strategies exist in other countries; therefore Canada needs such a program. One can’t help but notice the report recommends a number of goals which we essentially have already achieved. Perhaps this document is actually congratulating everyone in the food supply for already achieving the goals. For many of the sponsors of this report that would be the case as few sectors are singled-out for criticism, although the report seems to want more government oversight and more regulations.
The overall tone of the report with its frequent references to food safety, environmental sustainability, healthy food and local food system seems to reflect more trendy perceptions than the present food production reality. It is suggested that a national strategy should increase our food exports, I believe that has been a strategy for a number of major commodities like grain, oilseeds, pulses and meat production. For most of those products, export is already the major factor in primary production and has been for almost 100 years in the case of grain.
References and comments are made that all groups need to work together to achieve the common goals of the national strategy. Really, do we have any actual shortages of food in this country, are there huge gaps in food safety with thousands dying or getting sick, do we have massive degradation of soil and rangeland. If those existed there would indeed be noble goals to eliminate those problems. But where does one start the strategy if those problems are already resolved. The vast majority of consumers have access to more and safer food than we can possibly consume every day of the year. If one follows the reports line we must need even more of the same.
The report refers to food security, a perspective which is dear to any country, but then incredibly it attacks the most secure and most profitable sector of Canadian agriculture – the supply-managed dairy, egg and poultry producers. It suggests that the quota system be bought up at much less than market value and that producers take their chances in the free-market. Well history reminds us that prior to the establishment of supply-management those sectors were all at the mercy of the free-market. If that was so much better why did producers embrace supply-management in the first place? Do the authors of the report realize that a dozen US style mega egg farms in Arkansas could supply all of Canada. Since when is that food security. I suspect the underlying basis to attacking supply-management is that it does not provide adequate household food security, which seems like a euphemism for cheaper food.
The report also delves into nutrition and healthy food and suggests information and education programs. Although real, I would suggest those are minor problems considering the alternative – those being shortages and starvation. Only in well-fed western societies do we dwell on the need for perfect food by regulation, whilst others in the world wish for just any food. We should also keep in mind that although there are consequences, we live in a free society where we can make choices that includes what type of food we want to eat.
One ponders what the point of developing the National Food Strategy was except as an academic exercise for a research organization that may not have enough to do.
The question should be – will this strategy resolve problems that essentially don’t exist in Canada? If that seems an absurd perspective you would probably agree that this study should be relegated to the dusty shelves where other dubious studies molder away.
Finally it should be noted that the Conference Board of Canada has made a full-time business out of studying alleged food issues, not surprisingly in the end it recommends even more studies and the establishment of an observatory and evaluation entity – managed of course by the Conference Board of Canada.
AHEAD OF THE HEARD