Fraser: Expectations should be low for Food Systems Summit

UN

global The emerging international consensus is unlikely to please the Canadian ag sector

The emerging international consensus is unlikely to please the Canadian ag sector

Canadian producers should prepare for disappointment at the upcoming United Nations’ Food Systems Summit.

Planned to take place in New York this September, the summit will look to launch new strategies to deliver on the UN’s 17 development goals.

In Canada, dialogues have been focused on reducing food waste, the sustainable implications of exports, food security and regional resiliency.

Sometime this month, it’s expected Canada will develop the positions and potential commitments it is prepared to go to the summit with.

But already we can get a sense where this is all going.

Canada has firmly declared its priorities align with the UN’s sustainable development goals, and policies put forward by the government thus far demonstrate a strong focus on climate change.

Food Systems Summit is expected to result in new actions to transform food systems to be more sustainable, and targets on how to get there.

Determining a benchmark for measuring a product’s sustainability level, or the amount of emissions produced in making an individual product, could be eventual outcomes.

It seems inevitable that any achieved consensus will be built on green policies.

European Union members are poised to come to the talks armed with ambitions to fulfil its Green New Deal and “Farm to Fork” strategies.

Seeing this, industry groups are scrambling to ensure sustainable practices already taking place within the sector will be recognized at international tables.

The Canadian Cattlemen joined with Nature Conservancy of Canada to formulate a submission espousing the environmental benefits of grazing, for example. Some grower groups have looked to gain recognition for sequestering carbon.

It is worthwhile to seek recognition for this work, but expectations of success should remain low.

Making the argument farmers should be credited for carbon they’ve previously sequestered can barely gain traction domestically.

The argument isn’t likely to fare better on an international stage.

Given what we know about farmer enthusiasm for recent green policies, the sector should prepare for disappointment.

Farmers in Canada continue to oppose carbon pricing, and many greeted the 2021 budget investing millions into making agriculture greener without much enthusiasm.

In one instance, a commodity group responded to the federal government’s commitment to buy 1,400 grain dryers by saying the move suggested farmers aren’t already adopting the newest innovations.

That is an odd reaction to your industry getting $50 million to make farms greener.

Anything resembling enthusiasm for a carbon market involving producers was delayed until it became apparent it was here to stay, and even then, farmers seem focused on potential cash gains.

In fact, for all the talk we hear about farmers being dedicated to the environment, the industry spends quite a bit of time complaining about policies aimed at protecting it.

Which is fine. Sometimes policies are bad, or are disproportionally harmful to a specific region or industry.

But ongoing efforts to refocus the public’s attention on past efforts to reduce emissions within the industry will continue to be countered by reports showing Canada’s agricultural emissions are moving in the wrong direction.

Credible studies suggesting a reduced demand for livestock and fertilizer being needed often go ignored by industry.

Farmers in Canada should expect more green policies heading their way following the UN Food Systems Summit.

My bet is that whatever they are, producers won’t like it.

About the author

Reporter

D.C. Fraser

D.C. Fraser is Glacier FarmMedia’s Ottawa-based reporter. Growing up mostly in Alberta, Fraser also lived in Saskatchewan for ten years where he covered politics, including a stint teaching at the University of Regina’s School of Journalism. He is an avid fan of the outdoors and a pretty good beer league hockey player. His passion for agriculture and agri-food policy comes naturally: Six consecutive generations of his family have worked in the industry.

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