The federal New Democratic Party (NDP) recently released its national food strategy entitled “Everybody Eats.” It is touted as a comprehensive plan that deals with food from farm to fork. I suggest that it is only comprehensive because it tries to cover everything, particularly the politically correct and trendy. If all of the ideas in the strategy were implemented one could guarantee that consumers would be paying twice as much for most food products. That’s because what is being suggested is that food should be organic, free from monopolistic corporate influence, environmentally sustainable, sold through grower cooperatives at local markets, grown with no pesticides and herbicides, locally processed by small businesses, climate change friendly, emission-free, certified to be healthy and nutritious, highly inspected and monitored, and of course all food must be accompanied by reams of mandatory labelling of every kind. As expected such food must be affordable (code for cheap) by the enlightened consumer. It’s a socialist pipe dream and such an approach would not only be expensive but would significantly reduce crop production. In order to address the obvious cost side, the strategy alludes to transition funds, investment, sustained funding, support mechanisms and other subsidization buzzwords.
One suspects that the NDP brain trust that came up with this strategy did most of its consultation with their soul mates in the organic and green lobby industries. As expected their ideological brethren from the National Farmers Union were quick to show their unreserved support for the strategy. It’s unlikely the NDP did any consultation with those in commercial agricultural production and processing who produce 80 per cent of the food grown in Canada. That would involve admitting that evil corporate interests are the driving force in Canadian agriculture and food production, that would strike at the very soul of the NDP.
The strategy isn’t all bad, there are positive recommendations about compensation for those affected by the Species at Risk Act, land use issues in the Fraser Valley and elsewhere, preservation of marketing boards, farm worker rights, and animal welfare standards. Other suggestions are usually taken for granted in the agriculture industry, but are probably unknown to city voters who are the real audience for this strategy. One of the more nonsensical points is that the wages of working class people should be increased so they can buy more food – well duh!
There is also some mention of promoting agricultural production in the North to grow local food. That’s actually possible but one would have to support the progression of global warming, which is probably not a politically correct position for the NDP. This document would be half its size if it wasn’t for the hyperbole, political spin doctoring and food trendiness nonsense. Some points seem to be kept purposely obtuse, hiding perhaps the true intent of NDP thought on agriculture. One would never suspect that political parties have hidden agendas.
There is a bit of recognition in the strategy of the existence of food exports, which are a huge factor in Canadian farm production and marketing. However, if some of the recommendations are followed it would make Canadian food exports uncompetitive in the export market. Trade is an area where the NDP has little credibility being it traditionally votes against free trade agreements.
The NDP food strategy follows on the heels of another national food strategy released by the Conference Board of Canada. They both dwell on many of the same ideas but at least the NDP version focuses more on the agricultural production sector. The Board food strategy makes little mention of the production sector and even criticizes some aspects. That may have been strategic being few city folks understand or care how or where their food comes from.
I would suggest that these national food strategies are too unwieldy to provide specific and realistic perspectives. They try to cover everything and end up being mostly feel-good recommendations, many of which already exist in the system. Both strategies fail to give adequate credit to the role of the free market in providing the overabundance of safe, affordable food that we already have and is the envy of the world. There needs to be a separate production and processing strategy, which involves the commercial sector that supplies most of the food. Another separate strategy needs to focus on consumer food wants and needs. A single document just can’t address it all and has too many contradictions; food production is just too complicated.