Giving up Sovereignty Over Our Food Supply: Canada Can Do Better Than This

One great truth of being Canadian is that we are not American.  The hard part is sometimes distinguishing what that really means.  However, as Canadians we all know.  Canadian agriculture is no different.  Finding our way within the larger global market at times can be daunting.

Sometimes it can get very messy.  2008 is surely one of those times.  For instance if you are a Canadian livestock producer how much messier could it be.  We’ve essentially built a Canadian hog industry on a 65-75 cent loonie and now we’re trying to make a living in the ethanol gold rush world of $5 corn with the loonie close to par.  Ditto for Canadian cattle.  We’ve got few options and quite a few problems, mostly but not entirely caused by foreign exchange.

However, it doesn’t stop there.  I’ve been a critic of Canadian agricultural policy for years and as they say, the more things change the more it stays the same.  At the present time government policy is letting down Canadian agriculture big time.

Case in point is the food Canadians eat.  At the present time in Ontario there is a huge controversy surrounding the impending closure of several food processing plants.  In places like Exeter Ontario and St. David’s Ontario food-processing plants will be closing, partly because “food product” from Asia is cheaper than what can be produce here. It’s not right; our American friends would surely not stand for the same thing in their country.

Take the St. David’s case for example, which is located in the heart of Ontario’s Niagara fruit belt, home of one of the most unique microclimates in Canada.  When the plant closes there will be no more Niagara fruit processed for Canadians.  If we’re lucky we’ll get some fresh market stuff, but no Niagara fruit is akin to Canada without hockey or Tim Hortons.

Even a Canadian icon like Tim Horton’s gives you Apple juice from China.  Has the world gone crazy?   You would think our government would have an agricultural policy, which forbids some of this behaviour.

For some of my American readers you might think this a little xenophobic.  However, keep in mind we are a small country sleeping beside an economic giant.  There are precedents, one taking place as I right.

Presently the federal government has rejected an American offer to buy MDA Corporation, the maker of the Radarsat-2 satellite and the iconic Canadarm.  The American company Alliant Techsystems has 30 days to appeal this decision, but its obvious Industry minister Jim Prentice is blocking an American corporate takeover.  The reason being among other tings transferring this technology outside Canada might compromise Canadian sovereignty.

Of course the question is why is it so good for Canadian aerospace and not so good to protect and enhance our domestic food supply?  Simply put it’s a question about priorities, strategic interests or just plain apathy.

This present situation is almost institutionalized now.  For instance years ago I can remember farm groups protesting the rather bizarre example of foreign wines being available within the cafeterias of Parliament or state dinners.  Could you imagine Australian wine being served at a state dinner in Paris?  I don’t think so.  However, in Canada right now more and more of the food we eat is not from here.  In fact, forces are at work for a seamless food system across borders taking down some of Canada’s traditional food sources.

It will all go swimmingly unless somebody opens a can of tomatoes or pickles from lower Gongoland and they die.  However, the pet food scare last year seems to be lost in our memory.  New labeling requirements with teeth would help, but concerted government action to shore up our domestic food supply needs to be our greatest concern.

Keep in mind treating our American friends differently with regard to this would surely be prudent.  With the Americans providing such a large rich export market at our door, it only makes sense to bend over backward creating synergies on each side of the border.  However, when it comes to getting food at the expense of quality fruit growing areas like Niagara, common sense needs to rain down.  Duping Canadian consumers needs to stop.  Giving them the choice to buy authentic Canadian food products needs to be enhanced.

Keep in mind I know Canada is not an island.  We need to trade and our American friends need to be our first choice.  However, over the last twenty years we’ve built up Canadian agriculture on a cheap loonie and a burgeoning American market.  Nonetheless, what came first the chicken or the egg? Or in other words did our cheap dollar open up markets for us, or vice versa.  Did somewhere along the way, did we get some of this wrong.

The truth of course is some where in the middle.  However, what’s going on now with Asian replacement on product of Canada labels are scandalous.  The taking down of Canadian food processing is reprehensible.  Canadian farmers need to be more like their Quebec brethren and demand action.   And our government should stop saying they can’t do anything about it. The next things we’ll have are Beaver Tails, which aren’t really Beaver Tails.