Never Say Never: The Pet Food Scare And Our Food Chain

It is no secret that I like to travel.  If I had my druthers, I’d take readers and listeners with me all across this world.  Yes, we do have a global market.  Seeing it up close at times makes it more real.

However what glitters is not necessarily gold.  Last Sunday the minister talked about traveling on a mission to the Ukraine back in the day.  What started out as a mission for God descended into a voyage of culture shock.  At the end of the day, I think his mission was fulfilled but sometimes the thought of something is so much different than the reality on the ground.

Farmers will tell you that often.  In Canada we have the darnedest time getting any type of solid Canadian agricultural safety net or a “food security policy”.  Our government’s attitude is we’ll get the food anywhere we can as long as it’s cheap.  That’s one reason we have pickles from India in the dollar store, honey blended from who knows where and a myriad of other imported food products.

Defenders of such a policy are everywhere.  I’m sure there are many planting corn this week.  I realize Canada is not an island.  With our production capacity so huge in this country, we have to find markets somewhere.  However, this isn’t your father’s world.  With the wheat gluten scare from China recently being tagged as responsible for pet deaths across North America, many farmers and consumers alike are questioning this new “global market”.  The guy mixing the pot in some Asian backwater might not see the mouse jump in the soup.

That’s no slam against my Asian friends.  I’ve got many of them scattered around the world.  It is only an acknowledgement that food safety requirements and the recent pet food scare have changed our 20/20 vision when it comes to the food trade.  Canadian farmers standing on the sidelines demanding a “food security” policy need to watch closely.  This debate is starting to catch some wind.

A recent CBC news report showed just how the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is handling this new treat.  The following is a partial excerpt from that April 27 CBC news report.

“Canada’s food inspectors have issued border lookouts for vegetable proteins coming from China to prevent melamine — a chemical used to make plastics — from contaminating the human food chain, CBC News has learned.
Inspectors will seize wheat gluten, soy proteins, corn glutens and rice proteins from China — ingredients already found to contain melamine and other contaminants in hundreds of pet-food products. The proteins are destined for human food.
Melamine, also used to make fertilizer, was blamed for the deaths of a number of cats and dogs in North America and making hundreds of pets ill.
Vegetable proteins are impossible to avoid. They’re found in everything from baby formula to pizza dough and wieners. Canadian manufacturers do not have to declare what country the ingredients come from.” (CBC News April 27)

Interesting stuff for sure.  Part of the report dealt with a CFIA officials talking about how they wanted to make sure they catch any offending food additive.  Good luck.  Yes, I have confidence in the CFIA, but increasingly in this new “global market” that job is impossible.  However give CFIA credit, at least they are trying.

However, it’s hypocritical to put these people in this position.  They are forced into it because successive Canadian governments have looked the other way to make sure “cheap food” gets on Canadian store shelves.  Canadian farmers are charged with working in first world regulatory conditions while at the same time our Canadian food shelves are stocked with food that is partially grown in a world bereft of any regulations.  Someday the fat is going to hit the frying pan with the fault clearly lying over seas.  However, I’m sure what will happen is the blame and the cost will land on Canadian farms.  Big corporate players will act as bystanders.

Keep in mind this latest fiasco with pet food only serves as a symbol.  Pet food is not regulated.  Rover will eat just about everything.   What it does say is that our “global market” at times can be like the “wild west”.  The bigger and more diverse it gets the more likelihood that Canadian consumers are at risk.

Say the big hit comes.  Say something comes in from overseas, which is very very bad, like the melamine in pet food and several people die.  That tragedy just might force any government’s hand to put a food security policy in place, which would take down Canada’s cheap food policy and sustain Canadian farmers.  Trade agreements at that point would simply have to be re-jigged.

In a way this is like saying the apocalypse is coming, it’s wide open for everybody to see.  We are churning toward that with our eyes wide open.  However, let’s hope our system works.  Clearly though this pet food thing has tongues wagging on the back concessions.   I’ve learned to never say never.  Invariably, it always comes along.