Will Verboven/Ahead of the Heard
Most citizens are blissfully unaware that Canada does not have a National Food Policy and I expect most would be mystified as to what such a policy is or why it would even be needed. That’s because when Canadians go to their local grocery store they find the shelves overflowing with an incredible variety of the cheapest, healthiest and safest food in the world. All those foods are grown and processed by the most sophisticated and efficient food production system the planet has ever seen and all of that is governed by a regulatory system that assures environmental and agricultural standards are maintained to conserve soil, water and air. Thanks to ongoing research and the agronomic and livestock skills of growers, food production continues to increase to feed the ever-increasing world population.
Humanity, particularly in Canada, has never seen such abundance and food security, but apparently that’s not good enough. The Federal Liberal government has determined that there are problems that can only be addressed by creating a National Food Policy. To achieve that goal the Federal Minister of Agriculture has started the process by launching an online survey so that Canadians can share their views in how this food policy will be developed. In typical government fashion, to ensure that the government gets the response it wants from those that take part in the survey leading questions are asked to which the answers are obvious. There is no opportunity to question the relevance of the whole process.
The survey involves four themes:
The first asks about increasing access to affordable food – gosh, who wouldn’t be in favour of that goal. I would suggest we already have the cheapest food in the world so affordability can’t be an issue unless the expectation is that food should be free. If a citizen cannot afford to buy what is already cheap food, that becomes a social policy issue, not a food policy issue.
The next theme calls for improving health and food safety – no problem there. Thanks to ever improving science, technology and processing sophistication food poisoning is at its lowest level in known history. Food contaminants and residues, through proper agronomic, livestock and processing practices, are now so low they are bordering on the undetectable. There is always room for improvement, but curiously, governments thwart some available food safety processes such as irradiation.
The next theme asks about conserving our soil, water and air – okay, but compared to just 60 years ago the advancements have been truly phenomenal. Zero-till has reduced most soil movement and irrigation technology has improved water use efficiencies by over 20%. Research has created plants and chemicals that have ever lessening adverse impact on the environment. Improvements are always welcome though; it’s why North American food production is the most efficient and productive in the world.
The last theme is about growing more high-quality food. Really, do we need more food? Canadians already waste 40 per cent of what is made available in grocery stores. As to quality, fierce competition from production to retailing has created almost flawless food products, which has seen vast quantities of food thrown away simply because it didn’t meet the exacting visual quality standards expected by consumers. What we really need to be doing is growing more cereals, oilseeds and livestock products needed to feed the hungry and starving hundreds of millions who can only dream of having the access and affordability to food that Canadians routinely expect. Such real desperate global food issues tend to make a mockery of such supposed Canadian concerns over access and food security. We in the western world have no idea what real food insecurity means.
So, who asked for this – certainly not the commercial food production and processing sector – for the past 100 years they have been quietly and efficiently achieving exactly what the purported food policy wants to design. One only needs to check out the websites of such lobby groups as Food Secure Canada to find out who is pushing for a national food policy. That group involves a plethora of disparate groups, few of which have any real connection to commercial food production or processing. Most are food bank and urban agriculture groups, churches, and of course the usual suspects – organic lobby groups and anti-GMO agitators. I expect many of those groups are supported by government grants for various social purposes that get turned into lobbying for a national food policy that would meet their social and ideological goals. More next time.