The following transcript is protected under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.
Kootenay Co-op Radio CJLY
Nelson, B.C. Canada
January 19, 2006
Title: The Election Show
Producer/Host: Jon Steinman
Transcript: Pat Yama
Jon Steinman: And welcome once again to Deconstructing Dinner on Kootenay Co-op Radio, CJLY in Nelson, British Columbia, I'm your host Jon Steinman.
Here on Deconstructing Dinner, we dissect our daily food choices and discuss the impacts that these choices have on ourselves, communities, and the planet.
Last week we discussed the topic of Eggs, and heard from a number of guests who discussed the various methods by which eggs are produced in this province. And it was further discussed whether or not there is enough information out in the open that provides British Columbians with sufficient background on these various methods of production, so that we can make more educated choices when purchasing eggs or products containing eggs. If you missed that show and have access to the internet, you can listen to an archived version at www.cjly.net/deconstructingdinner.
Tonight's show will be structured around the upcoming federal election and we will hear from NDP candidate, Alex Atamanenko of this B.C. Southern Interior Riding. We will be joined by Andrew Lewis, the Green Party candidate for the Saanich-Gulf Islands riding. We will also hear from the President of the National Farmers Union, Stuart Wells who spoke with me earlier from Swift Current. And also joining the show will be Cathy Holtslander of the Beyond Factory Farming Coalition and Andrea Gunner of the BC Organic Milling Co-op.
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January 23rd marks yet again, another federal election. As per usual, these weeks leading up to the election consist of the country's two major political parties accusing the other of breaking promises, of putting politics before people; accusations that the Liberal Party dishonestly fixed their television campaign. Accountability is the buzz-word for this election. It's thrown around to the point where it has lost all meaning. And here we are left to wonder, who is accountable for destroying this great word!
As the party leaders bark at each other, the amount of time that is left to promote how each party will best represent the needs and values of Canadians is diminished to the point where only a few key issues can bubble to the surface. These issues that the media then grabs a hold of seem to become the deciding factors in who gets a vote and who gets elected.
But what is the cost of this condensed lesson in politics? For one, and most importantly, it's at the cost of Canadians not being given the chance to fully understand and interpret the entire platforms of every party. Granted, with only a handful of multi-issue parties to choose from, it becomes difficult to find a platform that suits all of the concerns that we may individually hold.
And although each and every Canadian certainly holds a varying range of concerns that then determines who we vote for, is it presumptuous to say that the one concern we all share is food? Regardless of whether we devote hours of attention per day to the food we eat, or maybe our connection to food just consists of a frozen meal in the microwave, we are all still ingesting food and are doing so on a consistent routine.
So then where has all the talk of food and agriculture been in the past few weeks leading up to this coming election? Last I checked food was essential to our survival, and is therefore the foundation to all other facets of our lives.
But when you read between the lines of party platforms, or televised leader debates or newspaper editorials, food issues are everywhere - they're just not referred to as such.
Healthcare for one has food and agriculture written all over it. What we put into our bodies has a vital role in determining how much healthcare we need or will need. And when our sources of water are being polluted with liquid manure from industrial farming operations, and our air and soil are being filled with tank loads of chemicals being poured onto our fruits and vegetables, healthcare is certainly an important issue.
Reading further between the lines we have been hearing the call to improve public transit in order to alleviate congestion. Well you might as well call urban congestion a line up at the grocery store because as the statistics show over 80% of our country's population lives in urban centres. Compare this to 60% of the population living in urban centres only 50 years ago when at this time over half of Canada's rural population were farming families. Today, only 11% of Canada's rural population is involved in farming. It's no doubt that the congestion we see in our cities can be very much attributed to the state of Canada's farms and food supply. And if I can note, these statistics are not based on the 250,000 person population the Liberal government refers to as being rural.
Take a look at the issues surrounding our environment of Kyoto. There's no need to get into detail about how our agricultural lands have significant impacts on our environment. No need to get in to detail that when we purchase a box of cookies produced in a suburb of Toronto, the spent fuel required to get that chewy chocolate chip cookie into your kitchen here in British Columbia has a major effect on the quality of the air we breathe.
So then what about a direct reference to food and agricultural issues? Mention is certainly there in all of our parties platforms, albeit very brief in some cases. But there is no doubt that when taking a deeper look, the differences between party stances on food and agricultural issues are significant. And we'll discuss some of these differences on today's show.
I want to remind those of you listening that if there is anything mentioned on the show of which you would like to find out more information, you can visit the show's website at www.cjly.net/deconstructingdinner where all necessary information will be uploaded shortly after the broadcast.
If you are just tuning in, this is Deconstructing Dinner, where the topic of the show today is the upcoming federal election, and how food and agriculture plays into the platforms and visions of our country's political parties and candidates. But, more importantly, today's show will help determine to what degree Canadians need to be incorporating food and agricultural issues into our decision process when choosing who we are voting for.
I just touched on one method by which we can reinterpret many of the issues that are at the forefront of the various campaigns leading up to this election. And if we look at food directly and lay out our current food system on the table so to speak, the picture is not much different.
As it stands right now our food is governed by the principle of basic economies of scale, where a handful of companies are controlling our food supply, and this handful of companies are increasingly sourcing ingredients and products from equally increasing distances. The centralization of farming, production and distribution has created a system where a food product produced here in Nelson, for example, would have to according to company policy, first be produced in a sufficient quantity so it can then make its way to a distribution centre hundreds of kilometres away before it could then make its way back to Nelson and onto the shelf of one of our provinces major retailers. There's no wonder why urban centres are completely surrounded by industrial parks of food processing plants that ironically enough are eating up valuable agricultural land in order to be as close to the distribution centres as possible.
As these processing plants continue to giganticize their capacity, the need for technology and safety measures becomes a vital necessity in order to limit the chance of viral and bacterial outbreaks that these conditions are so conducive to. In come the federal regulations that aim to ensure these safe conditions are met. And left in the dust is the guy down the street who wants to make tomato ketchup from his field of naturally grown tomatoes but has no possible chance of doing so because the amount of finances required to meet these production regulations far exceed his ability to do so. And, the statement then rings true - there are no other kinds.
But what is it that is holding this food system together? What is the key element that provides the backbone for the survival of this industrial system of food? And the foundation is that of natural resources - oil, most importantly. So rewinding back to the list I touched on of election issues that are somehow connected to food, well now you can add any talk of border security and terrorist threats to the list of issues connected to our food supply, because as we all know, the hunt for oil is inextricably linked to security issues.
But security aside, this foundation for our food system - oil, is a non-renewable resource that as we know is quickly disappearing. And as it does the price of oil will only increase and this oil-dependent food system will become first too costly to operate and eventually become obsolete. When it does, where will the local and sustainable community-focused food systems be? Because as is the current trend, our farmers who possess generations of invaluable knowledge and skills passed down to them are now working in the country's major urbans centres as they are unable to make a living otherwise.
And so, here lies one of the key issues facing our food supply, and a key issue to consider leading up to this upcoming election.
Given how important the well-being of our local and regional farmers are to the livelihood of you and I, I asked Stuart Wells to better explain the situation and shed some light on where our country's political parties stand on this issue of farmers incomes.
Stuart is the President of the National Farmers Union - a member-based organization that promotes the family farm as the most appropriate and efficient means of agricultural production. Stuart is also a farmer in South Western Saskatchewan, and I spoke with him over the phone from his home in Swift Current.
Jon Steinman: Stewart, here on Deconstructing Dinner efforts are made to fully understand the impacts of our food choices. When we go out and buy a loaf of bread, a Christmas turkey or a bag of apples for example, one of main impacts resulting from these purchases is the financial contribution that the purchase provides to farmers themselves. But as is the case, farmers' incomes in 2004 were the second lowest they have ever been in history. And many would question, well how could that be with the advent of technological progress and the centralization of production and distribution. Shouldn't farmers be better off than they've ever been Stewart?
Stewart Wells: Well, that's what we would think being farmers in an organization that represents farmers. But that's not the way things have worked out especially over the past 20 years. During the post Second World War period from 1945 to 1985 roughly, Canadian farm incomes were quite healthy and I'm talking now about net farm income. Farmers during that 40 year period could look at net incomes of anywhere between $10 and $30,000 per year. Since the late 80s there's just been a one way trend for those net farm incomes however and that's been to move ever lower. In the last couple of years we've actually seen those net farm incomes - the money that farmers actually receive from selling their produce on the market - those net farm incomes have actually slipped into negative territory and gone actually below zero. And so now in these last couple of years, farmers have received something like minus $10 to $20,000 per year, on average again per farm. That minus $10 to $20,000 does not take into account the labour and management that family farmers across the country have put into their operations. So that labour and management is actually free and farmers are still losing $10 - $20,000 per year. So those farmers have had to either take out loans at the bank and increase their debt or sell off some sort of long-term assets or find off-farm employment or not replace machinery, not repair machinery so their equity and their operations is actually decreasing. Farmers right across the country have done all of those things just in order to try and stay in business.
Jon Steinman: And welcome back to Deconstructing Dinner. I want to remind you that Deconstructing Dinner is sponsored by the Kootenay Co-op Natural Foods Store here in Nelson.
As we just heard from Stewart Wells, farmers' incomes in Canada are at the second lowest they have ever been in history. This is, of course, a major concern for Canadians because the well-being of Canadian farmers translates into the well-being of Canadians ourselves. As I continued on with this pre-recorded interview we are listening to right now, I asked Stuart where all the money is going?
Stewart Wells: One of the phrases that I'm fond of using is that there's never been so much money in the food system but there's never been so little of it actually getting back to the farmers. And the National Farmers Union has really been the leader in trying to follow that food dollar right through the system and find out where it is ending up. One of the papers that the Farmers Union just published in December 2005 and it's available on our website, that paper shows that while farmers were recording these record low returns from the marketplace, the companies that we have to deal with in order to produce the food - the input supply companies on the one side of us and so that could be anything from banks to fertilizer companies to machinery dealers and that kind of thing and the companies on the downstream side of us, the handlers and retailers and processors and transportation industry - turns out that those organizations and companies, on average are having the best years ever. And so in 2004 which was the year we looked at, three-quarters of those companies recorded either record or near record profits at the same time that Canadian farmers are recording negative incomes.
So we would point to that as a very important piece of the puzzle. Never before in historical terms have the companies been so powerful, so consolidated that they can actually charge whatever the market will bear. And their charges don't have to have any relation to what their actual costs are in their own businesses. We're in the situation where these companies are recording these record profits while the farmers are recording record losses.
There's a tremendous graph that is actually published by one of the fertilizer companies in their annual report. They were relating their fertilizer prices to corn prices and they showed that whenever corn prices went up, they put their fertilizer prices up. And whenever corn prices went down they would put their fertilizer prices down which meant that their fertilizer pricing was in no way tied to their actual costs. They were charging whatever the market would bear and if you had any actual competition in that marketplace, that company wouldn't be able to do that. They would have to worry about the cost of production and they would have to look at their costs and then try to charge a reasonable profit - something that would allow them to stay in business. But they couldn't just follow commodity prices up and down. And in every sector of the economy that farmers have to deal with in our daily work, the companies have consolidated themselves down to the place where there's usually between two and five players. We would argue that there's no effective competition amongst those very limited number of players.
The Harvard School of Business apparently has a rule which they call the 4:40 rule. And they say if you have four companies that are sharing a total of 40% of any given market that there ceases to be effective competition. Well we're way, way past that in Canada. In the beef sector for instance we have two companies now - Cargill and Tyson's that are controlling 80% of that particular marketplace right across the country. And when we look at grain handling and machinery dealerships and food distributors and retailers, processors, it's all the same right down the line. And so without any sort of effective competition there is nothing to stop these organizations from continually increasing their revenues from the marketplace.
Jon Steinman: Stewart you're speaking of this consolidation of power when describing where all this money is going and why farmers' incomes are at a negative as they are right now. So you have all these links but what in essence you're describing is this industrial farming and production model and this is the idea that's being sold to us as though this is the future, this is the model that's going to result in cheaper food and better living for all of us. But as you just described it the increasing levels in the food system chain and its consolidation of power seems to only increase the costs of production. And ultimately this is taking money out of the farmers' pockets, having no economic or social benefit to us as Canadians or as consumers. So here you're presenting this model and clearly indicating well this is why farmers' incomes are at some of the lowest levels they have ever been in history. And one of the issues that seems to have been raised in previous weeks leading up to this coming election is firstly, an acknowledgement of these declining incomes and we've heard this from every party. And the Liberal government for one in the past few years has responded to this crisis by providing up to $3.3 billion to bolster farmers incomes.
Now Stewart, does providing this financial assistance not mask the root of the problem as you've just described and by doing so does this assistance not create an economic system that is somewhat artificial?
Stewart Wells: There's a couple of different ways to look at that but you're right in a sense that the transfers from Canadian taxpayers to Canadian farmers have, one of the words would be mitigated the economic pain for farmers. And another way you can look at it is that it has actually masked the originating problem. One of the concerns that the National Farmers Union or one of the frustrations that we've had over the years and it continues is that while governments, when they're pushed far enough - and by that I mean when the protests from farmers get loud enough and farmers start taking tractors and machinery onto the highways and raising it on the federal level - the governments have eventually responded. And Canadian farmers have been very grateful actually for the largesse of Canadian consumers. And the Canadian consumers, it seems to us, as long as those consumers feel that their money and their support is going to support family farmers across the country and support good high quality food and at reasonable prices, the Canadian taxpayers have been very quick to support family farmers.
On the other hand, it has created this situation where governments have seem to look at that as the end point for their involvement rather than the beginning of their involvement. And so the frustration for the Farmers Union is that we have not been able to get governments to actually look at the underlying root causes, the structural causes of these chronically low net farm incomes. Of course we feel that unless people are actually looking at the root causes and trying to do something about that we will continually be in this chronic crisis situation and unfortunately this crisis has been upon us for the better part of 20 years now. We've seen the companies end up with more and more and more control over the food supply and again that has resulted in increased costs at a return for Canadian farmers.
Jon Steinman: That was Stewart Wells, President of the National Farmers Union who spoke with me over the phone earlier from his home in Swift Current, Saskatchewan. You can find more information on the NFU at www.nfu.ca where there are some really comprehensive reports to browse through, one of which relates to the topic we just discussed, and that one is called "The Farm Crisis and Corporate Profits."
I extracted a few statistics from that report that I thought would be interesting to quickly note, and here are the profits in 2004 by a select group of companies that are directly involved in Canadian agriculture. For one, Imperial Oil made over $2 billion in profits in 2004. The Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan who produce nitrogen fertilizers made $388 million in profit. The Dow Chemical Company - $3.6 billion; DuPont, makers of Pioneer Hi-Bred seeds - $2.3 billion; Pfizer, makers of veterinary drugs - $14.8 billion; Deere & Company makers of those fine green tractors - $1.8 billion; Cargill who are involved in every sector of the agricultural industry - grain handling, oilseed crushing, malting, and beef packing for one - $2.7 billion and the Altria Group also known as Kraft - $12.2 billion in profits in 2004. And farmers in 2004 recorded a net loss of $7.7 billion.
So what are the stances of our political parties on the issue of farmers' incomes? To summarize what Stewart Wells explained the Conservative Party of Canada for one is committed to adding an additional $500 million annually to farm support programs. They commit to speeding up delivery of the $755 million in emergency aid the Liberal government promised grain and oilseed farmers in November.
So in other words, it is the taxpayer, you and I, who will be subsidizing these negative incomes of farmers. The NFUs report summarizes the crisis this way: a customer puts $1.35 on a grocery-store counter for a loaf of bread. Powerful food retailers, processors, railways, and grain companies take $1.30, leaving the farmer just a nickel. Powerful energy, fertilizer, chemical, and machinery companies take 6 cents out of the farmer's pocket and then taxpayers make up the penny. And as stated before, the corporations walk away with billions of dollars in profits, and to add insult to injury, most of these companies are not even Canadian!
The Liberal party as was just mentioned has already pledged the $755 million promised to grain and oilseed farmers. But they do mention the Easter Report as being a guide to providing a solution to this income crisis. And this report is looked upon positively by both the NFU and the CFA, the Canadian Farmers Association.
The NDP addresses the farmer income crisis in their platform which vows that they will
"work toward sustainable agriculture outcomes that will help reduce input costs for pesticides, herbicides and fuel, which are largely paid by Canadian farmers to multinational corporations." They will "ensure fairer price competition in the Canadian marketplace by working to develop producer run co-operatives. These co-operatives are essential to restoring fair prices in a market dominated by a few corporate agri-giants."
We will here more about the NDP's platform from Southern Interior riding candidate Alex Atamanenko later on in the show.
And the Green Party addresses farmers incomes in their platform - "over the last five decades, federal policies and subsidies have shifted food production from ecologically sustainable farming and fishing families into huge aquaculture and agribusinesses, placing the control and profits of our food supply into the hands of multinational corporations." The platform continues, "The Green Party seeks to restructure our agricultural markets to sustain farming and fishing families in a domestic food economy and provide families with a fair share of the consumer food dollar. A sustainable food economy in a healthy environment requires keeping local small-scale agriculture alive and supporting a rapid transition to organic agriculture rather than subsidizing costly agro-chemicals, industrial food production, and genetically modified crops." And that's from the Green Party's platform.
We'll hear more about this later on from Andrew Lewis, the Green Party candidate for Saanich-Gulf Islands.
Jon Steinman: Welcome back to Deconstructing Dinner, I'm your host Jon Steinman. On today's show we are discussing the upcoming election and how food and agriculture play into the platforms of our country's political parties, and while doing so taking a deeper look at the some of the key issues facing our food supply and ultimately the food choices available to us at grocery stores and markets.
One of the buzzwords that has been thrown around in the past few weeks leading up to this federal election is "smart regulation." This is a strategy introduced in September of 2004. It's safe to say not all of us are fully aware of what "smart regulation" entails and how it affects our food system here in Canada. I caught up with Cathy Holtslander over the phone who joined me from her office in Saskatoon. Cathy is the Project Organizer for the Beyond Factory Farming Coalition - a campaign of the Council of Canadians. Beyond Factory Farming is a national coalition promoting the common vision: "Livestock Production for Health and Social Justice." Their mission is to "promote livestock production that supports food sovereignty, ecological, human and animal health as well as local sustainability, community viability and informed citizen/consumer choice." Here's Cathy shedding some light on the election buzzword "smart regulation."
Cathy Holtslander: Well, smart regulation is really just a buzzword for the government's overall regulatory program and agenda. It's being used to brand, I guess the Liberal government's overall restructuring of how the federal government approaches regulation in Canada. I guess it's a nice word for pushing a program because who could be against smart regulation, we don't really want dumb regulation do we? But it's not a specific piece of legislation. It's not a set of regulations. It's isn't something that's debated in parliament. It's simply a buzzword that's being used to promote this regulatory agenda.
The regulatory agenda is based on something that the Chrétien government started. They wanted to get a review of Canada's current regulatory policy and see how it might be changed. And they had a committee working on that - it was called the External Advisory Committee on Smart Regulations. And this committee was made up primarily of representatives of Corporate Canada. And of course they came up with recommendations that would serve Corporate Canada. And I guess one of the things that really is a concern is it's basically talking about creating regulations that promote business relationships with the United States and harmonizing Canadian regulations with American regulations in order to promote what they call transborder trade but in fact it would just be a way to pretty much erase the border in terms of regulation.
Jon Steinman: Cathy further explains how smart regulation applies to food and agriculture.
Cathy Holtslander: I hesitate to use the term smart regulation without putting quotation marks around it because it's only smart for the large business concerns such as the food processors and meat packers and so on. It's looking at harmonizing our regulations with the United States. We just want to have rules that are made in Canada and that would permit us to develop a food system that reflects Canadian values and Canadian interests. What we've seen is that in the past Canada through the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has basically mirrored the American regulations quite a bit by promoting what they call HACCP for meat inspection - Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points which the American system uses and approving hormones for use in beef and antibiotics used in livestock production as growth promoters. And these kinds of drugs are not acceptable in Europe. And as a result, Canada's become very dependent on the American export market and is basically shut out of Europe because of the kind of regulations that we have concerning veterinary drugs.
So the smart regulation process would tie us even further to the American system because we would really - by choosing to harmonize with the United States it's basically a choice not to be in a position to export to other countries and it makes us quite dependent. It pretty much makes it into a continental food market or particularly with meat.
Jon Steinman: One way to understand how our food choices are shaped on a federal level is to take a closer look at the range of amendments that our present elected officials had proposed prior to this upcoming election being called. Bill C-27 is certainly one that further exemplifies the principles of smart regulation. I asked Cathy to explain Bill C-27.
Cathy Holtslander: Well, Bill C-27 is the Canadian Food Inspection Agency enforcement act and it was brought forward in the last parliament. It was pitched as a housekeeping measure but when we had a look at it we saw that it wasn't just a matter of looking after a few little details to make things run a little more smoothly. But it was really a structural change in how food inspection and enforcement were going to take place in Canada. Wayne Easter when he introduced it indicated that Bill C-27 was step two of a three-step process. Step one was establishing the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in 1997 which created an agency for food inspection and CFIA is also charge with basically promoting exports of Canadian food products.
Step two would be creating this enforcement mechanism and Bill C-27 was a very broad ranging bill that would affect all of the Acts of parliament that deal with food inspection. And that includes meat inspection, fish inspection, the health of animals, the labeling, the Seeds Act and so on. And it would bring all of those Acts under one Act which would be the CFIA Enforcement Act, Bill C-27 so that the CFIA would create new regulations that would be consistent across all of those Acts. And this is basically a regulatory housecleaning and resetting up the regulatory system. And it dovetails with smart regulation. In fact when it was introduced in parliament it was clearly stated that Bill C-27 was part of implementing the smart regulation agenda. The wide range of regulatory powers that this Bill would have given the CFIA under the wide range of Acts would have created a legal basis for creating the regulations that would harmonize Canadian food regulations with American regulations. Part of the regulations proposed in Bill C-27 actually included foregoing Canadian inspection and regulation in certain areas if the other countries that we were dealing with had what they would deem equivalent regulations.
And then the third step of the three-step process would be actually the regulations themselves. So Bill C-27 was to set up the ability to create a new set of regulations - step three was creating the regulations. Creating regulations is something that goes on in the bureaucracy, it's not debated in parliament. So Bill C-27 was very important because had it passed then the rewriting of the Canadian Food Regulatory system would have occurred basically behind closed doors within the CFIA and it would have been debated in parliament. However, Bill C-27 died on the order papers - when the election was called all of the bills that had not been passed basically become defunct. So that was good that this Bill didn't pass. But because it is clearly part of an overall strategy for integrating the Canadian food system with the American food system and promoting this economic integration agenda, we do expect that something like Bill C-27 would likely be proposed again in the future whether it's in this coming parliament or the next one. So it is something to continue to be concerned about and to watch for.
Jon Steinman: And we are hearing from Cathy Holtslander of the Beyond Factory Farming Coalition as she explains to us the implications of the now defunct Bill C-27, that nevertheless will be reintroduced soon enough as it coincides with the strategy of smart regulation as she also shed light on. Cathy describes how our political parties stood on Bill C-27.
Cathy Holtslander: It was interesting in this last parliament because it was a minority, the Committees were actually quite engaged in dealing with legislation. And where Bill C-27 got to before the election was called was it had gone through the committee stage where the standing committee on agriculture which includes all the parties, looked at the bill and amended it. They made a number of amendments and then the Bill was going to go to second reading in parliament and it didn't get that far. So what we had was a Bill that had quite a few changes made to it.
The parties of course, the Liberals were promoting the Bill, they were trying to get it passed through parliament. The Conservatives opposed the Bill. Some of their interventions were related to reducing the CFIA's arbitrary powers and in some cases that was to protect farm operators from being accused without any kind of recourse. But there was also aspects to the Conservative's intervention that would make it much more difficult and more expensive for a government to regulate in a legitimate fashion. The NDP and the Bloc were generally were against the Bill and had proposed amendments though that reduced some of the arbitrary powers that the CFIA would have gotten if the Bill had passed as it stood.
It's difficult to say exactly where the parties stood on this Bill because it was in a process of change. However I would say in general the NDP and the Bloc were coming out more strongly for the kinds of protection to the smaller producers and were clear about the impact of some of the smart regulation agenda that was being promoted through Bill C-27. And the impact that some of the regulations proposed would have to shut out smaller producers from being able to be involved in the market to continue to produce because of some of the regulatory burdens that Bill C-27 might have placed on them.
Jon Steinman: And that was Cathy Holtslander of the Beyond Factory Farming Coalition. More info on the coalition can be found at www.beyondfactoryfarming.com and as per usual, all of this information will be available on the show's website shortly after the broadcast. And should you miss any part of this show or want to refer it to family or friends, each broadcast of Deconstructing Dinner is archived onto the shows website at www.cjly.net/deconstructingdinner.
We are shortly going to hear from Southern Interior NDP candidate Alex Atamanenko, and also from Andrew Lewis the Green Party candidate for Sannich-Gulf Islands.
But before we get to them, here is an interesting tidbit of information that I came across just recently. I conducted some research into the recent all-candidates forum on the topic of agriculture that was organized by the North Okanagan Organic Association that took place in Enderby on January 5th. As I was informed over 180 people attended the forum, it was an amazing turnout. But as I have also been informed, the performance by the candidates was not as successful as the turnout. Andrea Gunner, who is an agricultural consultant and manager of the BC Organic Milling Co-op in Armstrong was in attendance at the forum, and she shares with us what took place.
Andrea Gunner: The forum was very well attended. The hall probably holds about 200 people and it was at capacity. There were no seats available. In fact they brought some more chairs but they were still people standing. There were six candidates that attended - three from the mainstream parties, one independent, one from the Canadian Action Party and another one from something called the No Campaign which I believe is actually a party but it's not a mainstream one.
What was so disappointing about the forum was that given the amount of time that they had to prepare for it, they had all prepared an initial submission to the audience as it were talking about themselves in general and their interest in agriculture and their interest in community. And then once they had done that they received questions from the floor. The questions from the floor were mostly for all the candidates but there were some that were primarily for the three parties - the Liberal, the Conservative and the New Democratic Party. What was so disappointing was that for an agricultural forum the time that they had had to prepare was not either adequate or they didn't use that time very effectively because it was a case of either stand there with your mouth closed and look a fool or open it and prove yourself to be one. They had not even the barest knowledge of how the agricultural industry works or how the policies that come out of government affect real farmers. And given that they had had about two weeks to prepare, one would have thought that they would have done their homework a little bit better. There were some people who were very polished and what they did was what most politicians do - answer the question that they want to, not the one that they're actually asked.
Jon Steinman: What was the reaction from the audience?
Andrea Gunner: Consternation. There were several people using sort of the non-verbal sidelong glance, there were people chuckling, there were people writing notes and passing them to their neighbours. A lot of people in the audience looking at each other with wide-eyed amazement at how little these folks actually knew. It was embarrassing.
Jon Steinman: And that was Andrea Gunner of the BC Organic Milling Co-op, recapping the January 5th all-candidates forum on agriculture that took place in Enderby, which is the federal riding of Okanagan-Shuswap.
As a result of this lack of knowledge of agricultural issues on the part of these candidates Andrea has taken it upon herself to ensure that their elected MP will be well-informed on these issues. Her plan to undertake this can be heard in audio format on the Deconstructing Dinner website.
Given the performance of candidates as Andrea indicated, it would of course be interesting to now hear from some candidates themselves.
I was joined in the studio earlier by Alex Atamanenko, the NDP candidate here in Nelson's Southern Interior riding, which extends from Princeton, all the way out here to Nelson. Alex ran in the 2004 Federal election where he lost to Conservative incumbent, Jim Gouk by only 680 votes.
Given the vision of Deconstructing Dinner in discussing the impacts of our food choices, I first asked Alex what considerations join him when he purchases food in a grocery store. He also shares with us some key issues he is concerned with.
Alex Atamanenko: Well I think, you know one of the main issues is, can we as Canadians continue to feed ourselves? So one of the things I try to do is to purchase food that is grown in Canada and specifically fruit that is grown in British Columbia. My wife jokes with me sometimes that I won't buy potatoes from Washington (laughs). So that's one way I try to support our agricultural industry.
I think in general what's happening is we look at farming - if we look at fruit growers, it is becoming increasingly difficult for our producers to make any money. Something like 10 years ago the net profit of all farmers in Canada was something like $3 billion. Now it's zero. And yet costs are increasing and the governments seem to be putting stumbling blocks in front of our producers. I'll give you an example. The fruit growers in the Okanagan and Oliver/Osoyoos are having a hard time to make enough money to continue producing. And one way that they are counteracting this is to grow organic but it involves a tremendous, tremendous amount of energy. I know fruit growers who pack and truck their own produce to Grand Forks, other communities - that way they can make a few bucks.
What's happened for example in the Okanagan is that heavily subsidized American produce - and I'll talk about subsidies later - apples are being dumped in the British Columbian market putting our people out of business. And currently the Fruit Growers Association is taking us to court hoping to put a temporary duty on some of these apples coming in so they can at least be able to sell their apples and make a profit. There's an assistance program called CAIS from the federal government that is suppose to be there to help people in times of need, farmers in times of need. That's administered out of Winnipeg and I just read in the Oliver Chronicle that their payments are way behind. So somehow the bureaucracy is not reacting to the plight of the farmers. And not only do they have markets that they can't make money in the markets but the aid program that's in place on behalf of the government is dragging its heels and they're not able to get this help.
There's a program there and I'll continue to refer to the Okanagan because I've just been there and this is part of a riding called the SIR program - Sterile Insect Release program which has been working to make apples free of the Codling Moth. Now what that means is that these fruit growers don't have to spend dollars on pesticides and our environment is more friendly - pesticides aren't going into the environment. They have to pay a certain amount of this program. Part of it is funded federally and part of it funded provincially. I read in the paper just last week that instead of paying $107 per acre the cost has gone up to $122 an acre. So, clearly something is wrong. Here we have a program that's partly subsidized by the provincial and federal governments and yet the increased cost of the program is being dumped on the shoulders of the fruit grower.
So, if we want to sustain this industry and we have programs in place, my feeling is that we should be supporting them with increased aid from the federal and provincial levels rather than having them pay the cost of this program. And what's come out of this is that at meeting, I believe either on the 27th or 28th, the Fruit Growers Association in Kelowna, they're going to be voting to stay in this program or not even though it's been helping them. So what may happen is they may vote for purely economic reasons not to continue using the Codling Moth program and we'll be back at square one using pesticides and other herbicides which are harmful to the environment. So, that's one issue that's facing the agricultural producers in Canada. The other one of course are the corporate farms and we see that more on the Prairies, for example. We want to support family farms so they can continue to carve out a lifestyle supplying us with food and at the same time being able to have this rural lifestyle that we are so familiar with.
Jon Steinman: We are hearing from Southern Interior NDP candidate Alex Atamanenko as we discuss how food and agriculture factor in to the NDPs platform. As we have just discussed the issue of regulations surrounding our food systems here in this country, Bill C-27 - the Canadian Food Inspection Agency Enforcement Act was touched on by Cathy Holtslander. And although the Bill is now dead as a result of this upcoming election, the Bill is no doubt going to reappear in one form or another. Alex shares the NDP stance on Bill C-27.
Alex Atamanenko: Well our agricultural critic, Charlie Angus has come out with serious reservations on the proposed bill. According to organizations such as the Council of Canadians, this would lock us into the U.S. regulatory system, it would increase privatization of the regulatory system, cripple our ability to protect our food supply and diversify our trading relationships, make it even harder for small farmers to survive because of the Food Inspection Agency's mandate to promote the corporate agribusiness sector. And this is relatively new. There use to be an inspection agency. Now part of their mandate is to promote.
So the question is how do you expect a government agency who is promoting the corporate industry to at the same time put in regulations that protect the consumer and protect the Canadian public? And that's a questions that I've been asking myself and that's the question that I will be asking in parliament if I'm elected because clearly, this bill is to the detriment of local producers.
Jon Steinman: And that was NDP candidate Alex Atamanenko. Next up we will hear from Andrew Lewis who will shed some light on the Green Party's stance on food and agricultural issues. Andrew is the Green Party Candidate for the Saanich-Gulf Islands riding. In 2004 Andrew was the federal Green Party of Canada candidate for Saanich Gulf Islands, winning over 10,000 votes, that was 16.7% of the votes which was the highest for any Green Party candidate in Canada. He is also a Deputy Leader of the Green Party itself. I asked Andrew what considerations join him when he purchases food from grocery stores, markets or restaurants.
Andrew Lewis: Well, I take food very seriously in my life. I'm a gardener so I actually grow quite a bit of food for myself and my family and my wife is a chef so… Our incomes are pretty low - low to medium income but I think we've probably pay more than most people for our food. We take it very seriously. So we like to buy organic whenever we can. We like to buy happy meat that's locally grown. I actually have, as I say, my own garden so I like to grow a lot of food and supplement our diets with that. We have our own chickens and I keep bees. And then yes, in a restaurant I try to go vegetarian actually but I actually don't eat out a lot. I usually find it quite disappointing.
Jon Steinman: Andrew discusses some of the key issues facing food and agriculture.
Andrew Lewis: Large and growing issues that go right across the spectrum from health and the growing crisis in B.C. - diabetes - our sugar intake is three times the recommended intake and so there are lots of health concerns. There's poverty and hunger in this country and in this day and age it seems ridiculous that we still have poverty and yet there's still over one million children in this country are in poverty.
We're losing the ability to feed ourselves due to loss of farmland and organization. And of course then there's the really big picture issue such as climate change and how we are going to not only maintain but increase our food security under the threat of climate change. We're losing our loss of bio-control, loss of ability to save seed. I could go on - what else - peak oil, our dependency on fertilizers and transport for our food means that as energy prices go up, we're going to hit a crunch in food supply and with that is a loss of knowledge. We're losing our farmers and we're losing that knowledge to grow our own food so it's a very large and complex problem that I think we need to address. It should be one of the key issues in this election campaign and unfortunately I'm not hearing it from the other parties.
As usual with all Green Party ideas and platform and principles we have to take an integrated and co-operative approach to food security. We have to understand that it's connected to our healthcare system and also we need to focus on local sustainable agriculture. At the moment our federal government, its primary support is for agribusiness and supporting producers and the transport companies that - and supply that whole - the wrong end of agriculture. We need to be supporting our local farmers. We need to at the federal level, we need to be investing in research and development that supports a transition to organic and sustainable agriculture that supports rural communities. We can do things like tax-shifting which only the Green Party's talking about - increasing taxes on artificial fertilizers and pesticides. And the taxes that are put onto fertilizers and pesticides will be used to help subsidize transition funds for sustainable local agriculture.
Jon Steinman: And that was Andrew Lewis, the Green Party candidate for the Saanich-Gulf Island riding.
And that wraps up today's election feature here on Deconstructing Dinner.
One more quick mention though, in the next couple of months this show will feature a 2-part series focusing on the frequency with which food issues make their way into our public education system. This will be done in collaboration with local Nelson environmental organization Earth Matters, who are promoting the country-wide One-Tonne Challenge, and are doing so by introducing a program into our public schools that aims to educate students and teachers about the links between food consumption choices and greenhouse gas emissions. They will do this by offering a one hour class presentation followed by a guided tour through a local supermarket. For those teachers in the Nelson area who are interested in booking this initiative you can find more information at www.earthmatters.ca or by dialing 352-6011 ex.17.
Stewart Wells: So we've seen the companies end up with more and more and more control over the food supply and again, that has resulted in increased costs at a return for Canadian farmers.
Jon Steinman: And that was this week's edition of Deconstructing Dinner, produced and recorded in the studios of Nelson, British Columbia's Kootenay Co-op Radio. I've been your host Jon Steinman. I thank my technical assistant tonight Maria Jackman. All of those affiliated with this station are volunteers, and financial support for this station is received through membership, donations and sponsorship from local businesses and organizations. For more information on the station or to become a member, you can visit www.cjly.net, or dial 250-352-9600. And should you have any comments about tonight's show, want to learn more about topics covered, or want to listen to this broadcast all over again, you can visit the website for Deconstructing Dinner at www.cjly.net/deconstructingdinner.
Till next week…