Alberta wish list contains wishful thinking for 2013

It’s the time of year when folks let their minds wander and think about what might be for the coming year.

It’s the time of year when folks let their minds wander and think about what might be for the coming year.

It’s a renewal of sorts, putting behind oneself the trials and tribulations of the past year — or at least hoping to forget them for a while. Those of us in the opinion business like that approach, especially for past comments we made that turned out to be mindless rantings. Although most of us tend to be more baffled that our suggestions have not been enthusiastically embraced for the sake of the betterment of the universe.

Two big events affected agriculture in Alberta considerably in 2012. One was the demise of the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) monopoly and the arrival of the free market, and the second was the XL Foods E. coli fiasco.

There were other events, of course, but both of these shook the foundations of animal and grain production in this province. Neither has completely played out, but both have caused serious soul-searching about the economic future of each sector.

One can’t help but wonder for 2013: what if JBS can’t make the Brooks plant viable — and what if wheat markets crash and U.S. border mischief starts up again, with no CWB to back up growers.

If either of those were to occur, the economics would be quite severe to both sectors.

The XL fiasco caused me to ponder what could be done to not only instill more confidence in the food-safety process, but to take a big leap forward. The first is easy — start a formal investigation of the CFIA — from top to bottom.

The CFIA is virtually a failed agency in many aspects. Their role in the XL fiasco proved their ineptitude — it’s time to start over.

A big leap forward for food safety in 2013 would be the implementation of mandatory irradiation for all meat products in this country.

It’s guaranteed that such a step would significantly reduce food-borne pathogens and reduce sickness and death. There is absolutely no rational or scientific reason why this practice should not be implemented immediately.

Did you know that for many years, the U.S. armed forces has required that most of its meat purchases be irradiated for food-safety purposes — there is a message in that. The process is approved in Canada — how about a great leap forward and save some lives.

One hopes that in 2013, the establishment of the Alberta Wheat Commission will continue with the formation of a national grains agency that will represent growers across Canada. There is real urgency to this situation — responsibilities for research, checkoffs, trade policy, transportation and trade actions have, because of the demise of the CWB, now been splintered off to other groups, or not at all.

This is important if for only one reason — American trade mischief — it’s sure to happen again and we need a robust national grain organization to fight the upcoming battle. We also need a national voice to establish policy on GM wheat and barley — which is my next wish for 2013.

Genetic engineering can do for wheat and barley what it did for canola and a host of other crops. I understand the market reality of GM grains, but the trade wall is breaking down. The EU permits the importation of GM corn and soybeans.

Perhaps we need to start modestly with GM oats to show the potential. It would put Canada into the GM research forefront. Besides, under present conditions, Alberta will never be a corn or soybean production powerhouse, but we could become an even larger producer of wheat and barley with advances in GM wheat and barley.

Let’s accept that traditional plant breeding practices for wheat and barley pale in comparison to advances made GM canola and other crops.

On the political front for 2013, one hopes that long-simmering issues are resolved and the industry can get on with stability and production.

The government and industry need to get on with mandatory OHS and WCB for farm workers in Alberta — the last province to lack any farm-worker rights. Better yet, those rights need to be extended to farm and ranch owners, operators and family members. It can be done on a phased-in timetable.

In 2013, let there be some honesty about the future of supply-management. What needs to be established is the real cost and benefit to both producers and consumers of the marketing scheme. Add into that the trade cost or benefit, the cost of a quota buyout, the impact on rural Alberta … the list goes on.

Perhaps an arms-length study sponsored by ALMA is in order. The Alberta government needs to give more than just lip service to its less-than-enthusiastic support of supply management. Perhaps honest facts will shame them into more robust support.

Wishful thinking for 2013 could go on and on, of course — I wish a prosperous new year for all.

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