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Opinion: Government actions must match rhetoric in supporting agriculture

From international trade to better domestic policy, agriculture should not be an afterthought or window dressing

Time and again, the Liberals look at Canadian agriculture, and our farm families, as an afterthought.

For weeks the Liberal government shut out farmers, ranchers, agri-food businesses, processors and even health experts from providing input on the discussion surrounding Canada’s Food Guide. Thankfully, due to the support from our agricultural health partners and pressure from independent health experts across the country the Liberals reversed this ideological decision.

Health Canada is currently doing a substantial revision to Canada’s Food Guide, one of the most downloaded documents from the Government of Canada website. However, critical information from stakeholders was being ignored. Their expertise on the nutritional value of the food we eat was not being considered.

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Liberal members on the Standing Committee of Agriculture and Agri-Food shut down debate on studying the food guide and having witnesses from the agriculture sector appear before the committee. The Health Committee voted down the motion altogether.

We raised this issue because it was clear the new Canada’s Food Guide was based on ideological activism and bad science. In fact, it can be argued it is currently headed in a direction that is inaccurate and could be counterproductive, encouraging Canadians to make unhealthy food choices.

Doctors, nutritionists, dietitians, health experts and stakeholders across the country agree animal proteins and dairy products are healthy, which is contrary to what is being said by Health Canada. In fact, hundreds of doctors signed letters raising concerns with the direction of the Canada’s Food Guide because it is being based on out-of-date data and is not science based.

Not only would this impact Canadian consumers, but it would also impact our ability to access the global marketplace.

The Liberals claim to promote global market access for our agriculture commodities and claim to defend supply management, but at the same time they are telling Canadians to eat less meat and dairy. How can we possibly ask other countries to purchase Canadian products when the Liberals do not even stand behind Canadian producers here at home? The Liberals are sending very mixed messages.

Under a world-class food safety regime, our farmers have put their heart, soul and knowledge into growing an abundance of wonderful products not only ensuring we have food on our table, but also to feed the world.

The Liberals need to end their ideological attack on Canadian agriculture.

New warning labels on dairy and meat products, a Canadian food guide discouraging people from eating healthy animal protein and dairy, asking Canadians to base their food choices on carbon footprint not nutrition, small-business tax changes targeting the family farm, critical trade agreements in jeopardy and a punitive carbon tax which disproportionately impacts rural Canadians. This has been the track record of the Liberal government thus far.

I congratulate the Liberal government on following through on trade agreements negotiated by the previous Conservative government including the Canada-Europe free trade agreement (CETA) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). These are integral agreements for Canadian agriculture, especially the CPTPP, which would mean more than $3.4 billion in benefits for the Canadian economy including a boost in $300 million in pork sales, $200 million in beef, and $780 million in canola.

Now, we need the Liberal government to be among the first six signatories of the CPTPP to ratify the agreement and table the implementation legislation before the end of the spring session so we can take full advantage of this opportunity.

However, it appears the Liberals have other priorities and the CPTPP could be sitting idle until next fall, meaning we could miss out on achieving preferential access to these key markets like Japan.

For all our farmers, ranchers, processors and agribusinesses do for us each day we need a government that supports them as well – they have earned that much.

John Barlow is the Conservative member of Parliament for the Alberta riding of Foothills and associate shadow minister for the agriculture and agri-food portfolio.

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