The recent federal government budget is an interesting document for agriculture and their end users, Canadian consumers.
It’s not so much the dollars allocated to agriculture, let’s face it farming isn’t exactly a big ticket item these days in terms of federal government investment, but there are some interesting language which seems to be pushing farm regulation in this country farther from what consumers often say they want.
In terms of consumers, we hear two common themes in terms of food supply. On one hand consumers want safe food.
And consumers increasingly want to buy locally, as a way to ensure quality, and to support area producers.
We have come to expect the food we buy to be free of bacteria and such which might negatively impact our health.
Foods are found to be the root of illness outbreaks they make media headlines, and scare consumers in a major way.
Mad Cow Disease nearly ruined the British cattle sector, and one cow found in Alberta caused years of export bans being imposed on Canada, so we have seen firsthand the impact a food health scare can have.
In the case of identifying, and tracing that Alberta cow also spoke volumes about how well the Canadian system worked in doing its job. To find one cow out of thousands being slaughtered in the country, and trace its history was actually quite amazing.
So the systems Canada has created in terms of assuring food safety is stellar, and have worked well for decades. Few of us even give a fleeting second thought to the idea of whether the food on our dinner plate is safe.
So the budget includes eliminating the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s enforcement of non-health and non-safety food labeling claims.
The question is why the government would be monkeying with the CFIA which clearly has worked rather well over the year?
The budget basically put the accuracy of labeling on the onus the consumer.
Like many things in a budget, details are yet to be released, and therein lies the greatest fears, but as it stands consumers will have to carry the banner if they see a problem, and frankly the average consumer will not have the power against big companies that a federal government agency enjoys.
And certainly labeling goes beyond ingredients these days.
We have consumers who want to purchase food locally, and that means a label such as made in Canada is rather important in making informed decisions to support Canadian farmers.
Farmers will also face a significant change in the budget announcement as the Canadian Grain Commission will shift to full cost-recovery through fees for service.
You can make the argument farmers should cover costs specific to their business, but the CGC is 100 years old and has been final authority for grain grading and grain inspection in Canada.
There is a public benefit to that authority, assuring quality for both domestic and export bound grains, and so having general taxpayer investment has long been deemed appropriate.
The current government in Ottawa sees it differently, and as a result $44 million in costs will shift to fee-for-service.
Consumers want increased safety assurances, the ability to trace food from table to farm being an example, and want to buy locally to reduce their carbon footprint.
With that in mind the federal government moves in the budget appear ill-timed, and out-of-touch with what consumers desire.
Calvin Daniels is Assistant Editor with Yorkton This Week.