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Some federal budget cuts don’t add up for farmers: CFA

Some program cuts at Agriculture Canada resulting from the 2012 budget aren’t in the best interest of farmers and the Canadian Federation of Agriculture is going to press for changes.

“Some of the cuts do make sense because they get rid of duplication,” president Ron Bonnett said in an interview. But terminating regional adaptation councils isn’t one of them.

“They’re not scheduled until 2014 so that gives us time to change the government’s mind,” he added. “We don’t think they’re reasonable alternatives to the current system.”

The Canadian Agricultural Adaptation Program will be allowed to expire in 2014 so the department can “pull back to federal delivery” for any future adaptation programs.

Agriculture Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency are undergoing a 10 per cent budget cut with the savings to come from so-called “back shop improvements.”

The adaptation councils are important because they can help farmers keep up to date with all the innovations in technology and techniques, he explained. That’s important because of all the demands on them in terms of protecting the environment, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and ensuring food safety.

While CFA understands the decision to close the Cereal Research Station in Winnipeg because of the dilapidated state of the building, it wants assurance that the research being done there will continue at other facilities in the province.

And it wants to understand better what work was being conducted at the research stations in Kapuskasing and New Delhi in Ontario and how it’s going to be continued, he added.

Changes at the CFIA are also a concern to CFA, but it’s hard to assess them yet because they’re still being decided on or implemented, Bonnett noted.

“The intent seems to be that CFIA will concentrate on what’s supposed to be its main focus — food and feed safety.” It’s moving away from activities that are already done in other departments or that have no impact on food safety.

No consultation

Bonnett agreed with criticisms of CFIA for doing a dismal job of explaining its role in protecting the food supply.

CFIA has served notice that it plans to leave it to industry to decide what size packages and cans they sell their products in and expend far less time monitoring labels on food packages, food industry spokespersons say.

Christopher Kyte, president of Food Processors of Canada, says it’s frustrating that the agency wants to make final decisions on changes before it consults with anyone in the industry about the impact. “They’re consulting at the end of the decision not at the start.”

The food industry has geared its operations to meet federal regulatory requirements and now they’re being tossed out the window, he added. That will benefit large American food manufacturers far more than the smaller Canadian operations.

Then there’s the government ongoing failure to resolve the impasse it created by setting the Canadian content requirement for a Product of Canada food label at 98 per cent, which renders just about every processed Canadian food product ineligible.

The agency has yet to provide an explanation for a union charge that 100 food inspection jobs are being cut.

Nor has it explained just what it plans for its new food inspection model, Kyte said.

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