NFU Meet Highlights Farm Issues – for Aug. 5, 2010

The province’s prospects for achieving its phosphorus regulations by 2013 are dim, NFU regional vice-president Fred Tait told members meeting here recently.

“I don’t see any possibility at all of meeting the 2013 objective,” said Tait, in a meeting attended by some 20 people.

Phosphorus targets, new food safety regulations, and negotiations on the Canada-European Union free trade deal were among the issues discussed at the Manitoba National Farmers Union convention last week.

Tait offered several scenarios for meeting the target of matching phosphorus applications to crop removal rates ranging from a total economic collapse in the hog industry, a publicly funded buyout of hog operations in problem areas, to subsidies for translocating manure from high concentration to where it was needed.

“And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the favourite one, which is ‘technology will solve the problem,’” he said, adding that schemes to separate phosphorus from manure would also require taxpayer money.

“None of these looked very attractive, from an economic or political point of view.”

DEADLINE EXTENSION?

He predicted that the 2013 deadline would instead be extended to 2015 or beyond, especially as new public spending initiatives become evermore politically unpalatable.

Ruth Pryzner, in her report on the implications for small farmers in the new provincial Food Safety Act, warned that the devil will be in the details as the act is applied.

“This bill is intended to impose rules on farmers in a particular way that meets the needs of vertically integrated, industrial food production and processing systems, and serve the needs of transnational traders and capital,” she said.

FOOD SAFETY POLITICIZED

Pryzner charged that the act “further politicizes” food safety issues, and makes it easier for government to favour industrialized food producers under the guise of protecting public health.

She noted that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s existing protocols for poultry biosecurity, which came into play in the wake of a recent bird flu outbreak in British Columbia, are “impossible” to implement by farmers with small flocks of free-range poultry.

“How does this assist the industrial food system? It sends a message to the consumer that the only way to safely raise poultry is in barns, and it removes the ability of small producers to differentiate their product as free-range, ethically produced chicken.”

She added that draconian food safety regulations such as those imposed by the CFIA aim to “entrench the very model of chicken production that creates the public health threat in the first place” by eliminating competition from alternative production systems.

Pryzner noted that the cost of applying “harmonized, federal standards” could put small, provincially inspected abattoirs out of business.

“Supply chain is actually code for vertical integration. This concept is embedded in the Food Safety Act under the guise of traceability and food safety.”

Non-compliance with premises ID – currently voluntary – will result in loss of status as a farm, no access to farm support programs, and loss of farm-related income tax benefits, she added.

TRADE DEALS

Terry Boehm, NFU president, said that according to the “secret” draft text of the Canada-EU free trade deal, a farmer’s ability to save and use seed would be threatened by the EU’s requirement that Ottawa first adopt enhanced plant breeders’ rights protection under a piece of legislation called UPOV ’91.

The law would give courts the right – on “simple accusation of infringement” – to conduct the precautionary seizure of goods produced on a commercial scale, moveable and immoveable equipment and property, and the freezing of bank accounts, said Boehm.

“What does that mean for a farmer? That means crops, land and equipment, and bank accounts frozen so he couldn’t hire a lawyer to defend himself in court.”

The argument that Canadians would gain from opened-up markets in Europe for genetically modified crops under the proposed 2011 deal is wrong, he said, because buried in the text is wording that states existing laws of EU member states regarding GM crops are exempt from the deal. [email protected]

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