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It’s time for a green new deal down on the farm

By Kate Storey      

We need to rebuild Canada’s neglected fruit, vegetable, and processing sectors. This diversification would make good economic and environmental sense.

It’s time to take a green approach to Canadian agriculture by adding support for the production of locally grown, environmentally responsible food processed in Canada, says Green Party ag critic Kate Storey. The Hill Times file photograph
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The agriculture policy of the 21st century must focus on producing healthy food, providing fair incomes for farm families and creating thriving rural communities while protecting natural ecosystems. It is possible to promote resilience in agriculture so that it addresses climate change and is capable of adapting to the economic and environmental shocks of an increasingly unpredictable world. Unfortunately, the agricultural policies promoted by successive Canadian governments, including the current one, do none of these things.

Canada’s federal farm policy has long been about maximum production for maximum export. It made sense 75 years ago when post-war Europe depended on Canada for food. Export-centred agriculture still made sense 50 years ago when we were helping to feed the development of the global economy.

But Canada’s days of feeding the world with inexpensive grain and protein are over. Now, we’re a high-cost producer with a habit of using certain pesticides, hormones, and genetically modified seeds that make us vulnerable to trade barriers. Canadian farmers are increasingly caught in the awkward reality that the countries that can afford to pay for Canadian food don’t like some of our production methods. As a result, much of Canada’s agriculture funding is spent on support payments to stabilize what has become an unstable industry.

Although trade is and will continue to be a large contributor to Canada’s economy, the time has come to diversify, developing a new, resilient, green approach to Canadian agriculture by adding support for the production of locally grown, environmentally responsible food processed in Canada that many Canadians want.

Canada exports billions of dollars worth of grains, oilseeds, and meats, and then imports billions more worth of fruits, vegetables, and processed food. Because the global economy is flooded with grains and oilseeds but short on fruits and vegetables, Canada is selling low, buying high and leaving the processing jobs in other countries. The Green Party has long advocated for the rebuilding of Canada’s neglected fruit, vegetable, and processing sectors. This diversification would make good economic and environmental sense and bring some of the lost jobs and food dollars back into our economy.

There are many ways to make Canada’s agricultural sector more sustainable and resilient. Here are a few:

  • Start by putting ‘Grown in Canada’ and ‘Made in Canada’ back on food labels so that Canadians could choose to buy Canadian. Increase production of pastured, free-range chicken, turkey, and eggs by exempting small farms from the quotas required for large farms under supply management.
  • Develop organic agriculture by increasing research into organic production techniques, providing ongoing full funding of the technical review of organic standards, adding certification of organic textiles, pet food, and cosmetics to the Canadian organic regime, and developing a national organic data collection plan.
  • Use agriculture to fight climate change by investing in regenerative farm techniques that capture carbon, rebuild soil health, reduce floods, and mitigate drought. Synthetic nitrogen fertilizer is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions but regenerative and organic agriculture reduce the need for synthetic fertilizer or pesticide. Invest in a national agriculture extension program to help farmers learn how to use regenerative techniques to reduce emissions while also reducing their expenses and boosting farm incomes.
  • Reassure Canadians that their children are getting food that is free of pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics by ending the practice of allowing companies to declare their own products safe. Introduce independent testing of chemicals and reduce the allowable limits of chemical residues, such as glyphosate, in food.
  • Strengthen the codes of practice for the care and handling of farm animals, converting voluntary codes into law and enforcing them. Reduce the time an animal can be without water and protect animals from injury, suffering, or overcrowding in transport.
  • Fund research into the new crop varieties and end corporate control of university research by removing the requirement for researchers to find matching private funding dollars and turn over patent profits to the private funder.

These Green policies would lower farm expenses and make it easier for farm families to make a living. We would go even further by shifting farm support programs so that they benefit small and moderate-sized operations.

Multinational agricultural corporations have lobbied successive governments relentlessly and these efforts have drowned out the voices of the farmers and the people of Canada. It’s time to build resilience into agriculture, fight climate change, and provide the healthy food, fair farm incomes, and biodiverse environment that Canadians want. It’s time to green agriculture.

Kate Storey is a farmer in Manitoba and the Green Party’s agriculture critic.

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