The Future of Food

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Th Future of Food was the theme, the title of the three-day session of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture AGM held in Ottawa earlier this week. It stimulated lots of discussion. Mostly, it stimulated lots of enthusiasm as it identified not only a fresh way of thinking about how to improve the future of agriculture in Canada, but a way that recognized the value of all types of agricultural approaches and the real connections they have to the health and well-being of everyone who eats.

The fresh way of thinking was best captured by a guest speaker, Grace Skogstad, a political scientist from the University of Toronto and one who has focussed on the politics of agriculture for decades. She saw it as a shift from an approach based solely on the production needs of agriculture; what she called "the politics of production", to one based on a "politics of collective action"; a strategy based on what is in common to all who eat: food.

I found this exciting for two reasons. One, a very personal one, is based on the realization that two years ago, I knew nothing about the politics of agriculture. My involvement since, brought about by BSE and meat inspection regulations that effectively hamstrung my agricultural enterprise, has not only opened my eyes to the complexity of the politics of agriculture, but has taught me how important it is that farmers be involved in it.

The other reason is that I feel that I've become involved at the beginning of an exciting turning point; a real time of change for agriculture, what it represents and what opportunities it will afford over time for all who farm. I get to be involved in an important change initiative. This doesn't happen every day.

Sometimes it takes a disaster, or near disaster to bring about change. That was essentially what the background information presented by Julie Robinson on the reasons for the Food 2030 Strategy Britain has developed was. Julie, a Special Advisor to the President of the National Farmer's Union for England and Wales spoke to the conference via telephone from the UK for about 45 minutes, and outlined some of the reasons why the strategy was developed in the first place.

In 2001 the discovery of foot and mouth disease in some of Britain's farm animals resulted a social and financial catastrophe for the British farm industry; the slaughter of about 10 million farm animals and cost to the economy of in the neighborhood of $80 Billion. It led to the worst food supply situation for Britain since WWII.

Agriculture became an industry that required rescuing.

She explained that what began as a rescue strategy soon evolved into some broader realizations that a new approach was needed.

And so the problems brought on by disease was countered by an approach based on a "why farming matters" question.

Food 2030 is a 30-year national strategy that was brought about by a disaster, but which was helped along by what she referred to as a "perfect storm" of other driving factors; other social and environmental concerns, public health issues, climate change concerns, world price spikes for energy and commodities and public demand for better and more locally produced food. And, so while Canada hasn't had to endure a foot and mouth disease catastrophe, agriculture in Canada is in real trouble. Plus, we have the same social, environmental, health, climate, cost and public demand concerns as does Britain and most other countries.

It is worth reading the Food 2030 strategy from these points of view. It is also worth reading it because it presents an approach the CFA will be paying close attention to as it moves toward helping the creation of a National Food Strategy for Canada.

As do many others, I think a National Food Strategy is important and worth supporting.

Strategies developed to meet 30 and 50-year goals may, for some, sound like pie-in-the-sky dreams. But, far better this than continuing on an almost guaranteed downward-sloped path based on current short term thinking.

One last thought. I found it notable that much of the credit for stimulating the Food 2030 change approach was attributed to public demand for change. Without public demand, change won't happen. Without the participation of all affected and interested people, and that especially includes us in the community agriculture sector, all of whom should be hearing promise in these change initiatives, change won't occur. It's why we have, in BC, representation of the sector on the BCAC: to influence government policy in ways that acknowledge our needs and interests. We need to assure this sector's voice is heard.