World's hunger is Canada's opportunity ... and responsibility


Canada must boost food production

as food prices and hunger rise

By Alex Binkley
True North Perspective

Rising world food prices caused by dwindling stocks of grain and other commodities are shinning the spotlight on the agriculture and food processing policies of the federal and provincial governments to a degree rarely seen before.

The Canadian Agriculture Policy Institute (CAPI) and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business both issued reports in early February urging governments to encourage farmers to ramp up production. To many in the farm and food business, these reports set the stage for the release in the near future of Phase 1 of the National Food Strategy. It was started a year ago by the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, the country’s largest farm organization. The Conference Board of Canada will release its version of the National Food Strategy soon.

If somebody missed that world food supplies are an important issue, Galen G. Weston, Executive Chairman of Loblaw Companies Ltd., talked up the need for a National Food Strategy in a presentation to Ottawa’s government and business elite Feb. 8. “It should say what we want to be in the next 30 years,” he told the Canadian Club of Ottawa. “We have to have policies that make us more competitive. We need to have more clarity around farm and food policy.”

The CAPI report, entitled the Canadian Agri-Food Destination, says Canada’s status as a leading food supplier has slipped in recent years because of falling profitability, lost opportunity, and declining relevance. “Current policies and practices across the sector, and fear of changing the status quo, are holding Canada back. This is in vivid contrast to what Canada needs to achieve in order to provide the higher quality and volume of product demanded by a growing world population and increasingly aware consumers both in Canada and abroad.”

Rising international food prices and demand creates “a massive opportunity for the country’s agri-food industry to maximize its natural advantages of climate, geography and skills,” the report notes. “Canada can be the world’s leading producer of nutritious and safe foods produced in a sustainable, profitable manner. This would pack a competitive punch that few other countries in the world can match.”

Governments and the farm and food sector need to have a dialogue about creating “the most successful good food systems on the planet to deliver on our potential over the next 15-20 years. … We have the potential to change our approach and make a profound contribution to a changing food world.”

Meanwhile, optimism levels in agriculture are a four year high, says Virginia Labbie, CFIB’s senior policy analyst for Agri-business. The onus is on the federal and provincial agriculture ministers “to send some positive signals to help build on this momentum and continue to address the competitive challenges in the agriculture sector.”

Preliminary results from a CFIB report that will be released later this year suggest farmers’ top priorities for government action include regulatory reform and cutting red tape, lower taxes, improved foreign market access for Canadian farm products, increased research and more responsive government income support programs.

“Food safety is a top priority for our members and is a goal all farmers share,” Labbie says “However, CFIB reminds Agriculture Ministers that farmers are not immune to the burden of red tape and urges them to make a formal commitment to remove unnecessary barriers to growth.”

Thus far the two reports have attracted a bit of media attention but no political comment. The MPs continue to quarrel over well intentioned but poorly thought-out bill on genetic engineering as well as whether the Canadian Wheat Board should own ships and or be allowed to continue its monopoly on western wheat and barley sales. None of this is going to grow more food and help feed the world’s hungry. Let’s hope they get more serious when the CFA and CNOC reports come out.