Tuesday September 02, 2014

Governments still impact farming


It has been said more than once, including in this space over the years, that government decisions influence agricultural commodity prices at least as much as weather patterns and crop yields.

Governments make decisions based on factors which make little sense in terms of crop production levels, and feeding a growing world population, which we might hope are the ultimate goal of the farm sector. We should hope that at the end of the day everyone keeps that in mind regarding agriculture, promoting systems which could ultimately ensure everyone goes to sleep each night with a full belly.

For that to happen government really needs to get out of the way.

That doesn’t mean government doesn’t have a role in certain aspects of agriculture, including quality assurances and food safety standards backed up with inspection services.

But we know governments go farther in terms of how they influence agriculture.

It wasn’t that long ago when the world grain prices were established by the impact of duelling agricultural subsidies, the United States and its bloated Farm Bill on one side, the European Union on the other side. The subsidies were used to buy market shares.

Today governments play a different game in terms of agriculture.

It’s about using farm policy as a way to pacify the public and ensure votes at election time.

Both are rather suspect reasons if the goal is a viable agriculture sector.

Take the current situation in France.

France had had a ban on GM corn, a ban which applied only to Monsanto’s MON 810. The ban had been overturned by the country’s highest administrative court for lacking sufficient scientific grounds.

That is not particularly surprising since while the debate regarding GM crops has been a long one concerns are based on perceptions rather than proven safety issues.

Certainly, for consumers perceptions are often their reality. We make purchase decisions on everything from the recommendation of a friend, to a slick advertisement with some Hollywood personality extolling the virtues of a product he may never even have used.

So in a world where you can find supportive material to just about any viewpoint on with a bit of time digging in the Internet, there are certainly consumers who see GM crops as the next great plague upon the world.

But we might hope governments are beyond buying into perceptions when it comes to writing legislation.

But France’s government is already moving to pass new legislation to once again ban GM corn crops.

There are two questions which come to mind. The first is how any government sees such legislation as being needed given the amount of science supporting the safety of GM crops?

And, secondly, is the public in France served by legislation created for no reasonable reason? Governments should be beyond that, but we know governments stray into areas for reasons that are devoid of common sense.

And therein lies an ongoing issue for the agricultural sector, interference in the normal system of supply/demand economics, through legislation which changes how the system would work naturally.

Calvin Daniels is Assistant Editor of Yorkton This Week.



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