Comment: Who’s in charge of agricultural policy?

Harvest will take top billing in farmers’ minds as we put in the long hours that lie ahead of us, but other issues must be considered.

Two of the most important are Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s (AAFC) attack on farmers’ right to freely use our own seed, and AAFC’s seemingly unsupervised rewriting of the Canada Grain Act — including the Canadian Grain Commission’s (CGC) mandate.

Many farmers have a sense of what’s being presented and what’s at stake with the seed issue. After years of extensive lobbying by seed industry groups and almost no input from farmers, AAFC presented two completed industry-designed “solutions.”

In both cases — “End Point Royalties” and “Trailing Contracts” — government regulations would turn control of Canada’s seed system over to corporations, and force farmers to pay tens of millions of dollars annually. Their plans could destroy Canada’s public plant-breeding system and cause the loss of our reputation for top-quality grain.

Now, it appears AAFC has embarked on a similar mission to revise the Canada Grain Act, including the mandate of the CGC. The Grain Act was passed and the CGC was created in the early 1900s to protect farmers from predatory practices. The act and the commission are the sole remaining institutions that place the interests of farmers to the forefront.

With the active participation of the chief commissioner of the CGC, AAFC has settled into the CGC’s Winnipeg office, pushed aside the two appointed farmer commissioners, and has held multiple meetings with representatives of the grain industry.

They are reportedly preparing a plan that will strip farmers of the protections put into place over 100 years ago, and replace them with an industry wish list that will clear the way for grain companies to decide the rules of the grain trade.

Meetings with some government MPs have revealed a grave concern with this process. Questions have been raised directly with federal Agriculture Minister Bibeau’s office. However, answers have been non-existent.

This leads to the conclusion that at the very least, AAFC staff and the chief commissioner of the CGC have embarked on a revision of both the Canada Grain Act and the Canadian Grain Commission’s mandate guided solely by the wishes of the grain companies. Under these conditions, it is impossible to believe that farmers’ interests will be defended.

If this is the case, farmers will end up with another mess like the so-called “Value Creation” seed royalty debacle. Farmers will again be faced with a stacked deck when AAFC employees trot out a finished product.

All of this brings into question who is determining agricultural policy in our country. Is it the government officials we elect and who are responsible to Canadian citizens? Or is it unaccountable employees of AAFC who are allowed to implement corporate agendas?

The minister of agriculture’s refusal to investigate the serious questions raised by these issues is unacceptable. There is still time for this minister to step forward and answer the concerns of farmers.

Any review of the CGC and the Canada Grain Act must be immediately stopped, and an entirely new start made only when bona fide farmer representatives are at the table.

Cam Goff is the vice-president (policy) of the National Farmers Union. He operates a grain farm near Hanley, Saskatchewan. Views expressed here are his own.

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