NFU Asks Voters to Examine Candidates Stances on Agricultural Issues

Guest blog by the National Farmers Union- Ontario

Spring Election 2014

The National Farmers Union – Ontario is an accredited farm organization that represents family farmers across Ontario. The NFU-O believes that agriculture should be environmentally, socially and economically sustainable and that food production should lead to enriched soils, a more beautiful countryside, thriving rural communities and biodiverse natural ecosystems.

With this purpose in mind, this election, voters are being asked to carefully review where their candidates stand regarding agricultural matters. Issues ranging from how Ontario’s farmland and source water will be protected, to cost-sharing when it comes to Risk Management Programs are of high priority.

As Ontarians prepare to elect a leader this week, voters need to examine candidates’ stances on these important agricultural issues:

  • Farmland and source water protection: Legislation to permanently protect Ontario’s Class One farmland and source water regions will ensure that in Ontario we can continue to farm and live within healthy communities.
  • Local food: Ontarians need access to food that is healthy and safe. The government must provide support for smaller distribution channels and regional food-processing, including abattoirs and butchers.
  • Rural Infrastructure: Support for economic development in rural Ontario is much needed, including continued provincial transfer payments to municipalities.
  • Neonicotinoids: The NFU-O has been calling for a five-year moratorium on neonicotinoids. Pollinators must be protected to insure that Ontarians have access to food.
  • Hydro rates: The increase in hydro rates affects all of Ontario, but farmers are not able to take advantage of time-of-use rates. Hydro rates need to be affordable to all Ontarians.
  • Risk Management Programs: The Ontario government needs to provide their portion of the funding to the cost-shared Risk Management Programs. Ontario has refused to contribute their share to all RMPs because of a disagreement with the federal government over the structure of Ontario’s beef cattle support.  The present Ontario government has been waiting out the stalemate while Ontario farmers remain in limbo.
  • Canadian EU Trade Agreement: There will be significant costs for this province if the federal government signs CETA. The province needs to take a cautious approach to CETA.

Agriculture brings us much more than the food on our tables – it sustains rural communities by providing employment and jobs in the agricultural sector and beyond, providing communities with a population that supports the areas in which they live, attending and participating in churches, schools, community centres and organizations.

For more information about NFU-O’s 2014 Spring Election issues and how you can get involved, you can visit their website.

Letter to Premier Wynne Concerning the Local Food Act

Click image for full text of letter to Premier.

The Government of Ontario, under the leadership of Premier and Minister of Agriculture and Food Kathleen Wynne, recently introduced Bill 36 – An Act to Enact the Local Food Act (2013). The aim of Bill 36 is to foster resilient local food systems throughout Ontario in addition to increasing awareness of and encouraging the development of new markets for local food.

As previously stated, Sustain Ontario and its members welcome the reintroduction of the Local Food Act and believe that such legislation is vital to ensuring an equitable, ecological, sustainable, and prosperous food system.

A diverse array of organizations, including Sustain Ontario, have come together to highlight certain key areas that should be emphasized in further developing and implementing local food policy. These key areas are outlined in a letter addressed to Premier Wynne and signed by representatives of those organizations (view full letter by clicking image at beginning of post).

Beyond promoting awareness of local food and improving procurement, signatories believe that in order to achieve its full potential in making Ontario a leader in developing sustainable and healthy food systems, the Local Food Act and/or subsequent regulations or programming should include the following strategies and goals:

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Local Food Act Coverage

By: Ravi Singh

Last Monday, the Government of Ontario reintroduced the Local Food Act, which had previously died when parliament was prorogued in late 2012.

The preamble of the Act, which builds upon the principle that “Strong local and regional food systems deliver economic benefits and build strong communities”, puts forth the following objectives:

  •  To foster successful and resilient local food economies and systems throughout Ontario
  • To increase awareness of local food in Ontario, including the diversity of local food
  • To encourage the development of new markets for local food.

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People and politicians must value local agriculture

By Jamie Reaume, Executive Director of the Holland Marsh Grower’s Association

“We, the undersigned, believe that a healthy food system is necessary to meet the urgent challenges of our time… Governments have a duty to protect people from malnutrition, unsafe food, and exploitation, and to protect the land and water on which we depend from degradation. (FoodDeclaration.org)

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I was recently asked by a City of Toronto politician why it was important that the city fathers consider agriculture important. My response was clear: “Do your constituents eat?” People, regardless of where they live, require four basic things: air, water, shelter, and food.

Canada needs a commitment on healthy food and farming, something like our American brethren came up with in the Food Declaration. We are out of touch with what is happening in the countryside. Today’s farmer is doing more, in Canada, with less, than ever before. There are fewer, but older farmers, less farmland (which, in itself is a problem that will need to be addressed in the future as we continue to pave over all of the best growing lands in Canada), and no prospects for a future generation interested in taking over the reins.

Farming has always been brutal, hard, bloody, and difficult – at the best of times. That must be understood by a society that has seen dramatically altered perceptions over the past four decades of globalized food acquisition. Conventional and organic fruit and vegetable production are still reliant upon labour at harvest time. If the sun is out, and strawberries are ready to be picked, they are out there – both organic and conventional workers.

So how do we value local food production and the whole range of ecological services that farmers undertake – but that the public doesn’t see? There are hundreds of books, movies, and multi-media items about the “industrial” farm and its take over of our society but it is simply not the case in Canada. More than 97 per cent of all farms in Ontario and Canada are family owned and operated. And their farmers have an interest in looking after the land, air, and water. Farmers are entrepreneurs, business and community leaders, and environmentalists, activists, and socialists. They are fighting not just for themselves but for their fellow Ontarians; their fellow Canadians. They are feeding an exploding global population.

A new attitude is needed – specifically one that affirms what many of us already know: this is a vibrant, exciting business desperately needing a focus rather than excuses. Ontario, and Canadian, farmers are actively looking for new ways to handle production; new ways to add value to what they do; and new opportunities to move what it is they produce. There is nothing wrong with that – except they are continually stymied by ineffective rules and regulations that were developed at the turn of the century – the 20th Century not this new Millennium. Times have changed and outdated and outmoded legislation has done nothing but keep farming, as a business, on the backburners of our society.

Governments – all levels – must quickly come to the realization that Canada is one of the very few countries that could be sustainable unto itself. As a resource-based nation, we are blessed with overwhelming access to that which other countries can only dream about, and we need to speak up and re-establish agriculture as a vital ministry within the governments. Agriculture is the only industry found in all provinces and territories.

Being a net importer of food begs the question, when the borders are closed and the countries whose names we can’t pronounce stop shipping their cheaply produced food to us in order to feed their own citizens, what will Canadians eat? A country that cannot feed itself cannot be considered a country. And yet, the entire Canadian food system could wind up turning to 1.5% of the global population to ensure that there is food for 33-million Canadians.

Farmers need to get out a key message that can be used by all stakeholders, including government: farmers are the stewards of the land – they provide more than food – they are conservationists, protectors of the land for future generations, returning enriched oxygen to a carbon-filled atmosphere. Farmers are making contributions towards energy, biomass conversion, protecting water sources, developing environmental farm plans that showcase and highlight the conservationist nature of the industry, while, at the same time, providing food and fiber. And that’s just the tip of it.

By linking marketing, development, environment, and a program that ensures farmers of today are able to look at handing off their operations to future generation, agriculture will survive, thrive, and prosper.

On its own, each farm is an entrepreneurial effort. Collectively, agriculture and agri-food becomes the number two economic driver in this province, providing more than 730,000 jobs. Again, a message lost in the chaos of day-to-day life.

Finally, there is a way for government to contribute. Is it too much to ask that local, seasonal food be served to this province’s guests for fancy dinners? Or at any other government run facility and cafeteria? Token samples and displays are flights of fancy – and most of us see through them. If local consumption starts from the top down, more and more of our citizens will begin to see the value our province can provide – not just from agriculture but also from all economic sectors.

“We have a duty to respect and honour the labours of the land without whom we could not survive.” (Declaration for Healthy Food and Agriculture)