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Outcomes of the UN Food Systems Summit could significantly impact Canadian ag policy

By: Shaun Haney

June 5, 2021

Opinion

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The UN Food Systems Summit is set to take place this fall, and what happens at the summit could very well impact your farm operation.

Whether you are in British Columbia or through to Prince Edward Island, this meeting could inform policy back here in Canada and alter what is deemed acceptable practices in here at home. Before you scoff and say, “How the heck can that be possible?” let’s take a closer look at what is concerning many in the agriculture industry, including me.

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According to the event website the “Summit will awaken the world to the fact that we all must work together to transform the way the world produces, consumes and thinks about food. It is a summit for everyone everywhere – a people’s summit. It is also a solutions summit that will require everyone to take action to transform the world’s food systems.”

The summit has 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs). It’s hard to argue with these goals, which include access to clean water, zero hunger, and peace, but preliminary meetings leading up to the summit infer that some of the recommendations that come out of the summit are not going to be friendly to the current Canadian way of operations.

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The intent is noble, but I’m not sure, based on the current tone around modern agriculture in Europe, that the outcomes will be to our liking in Canada.

The concerns I have, and that others share, are twofold:

  1. What agricultural and food messaging will the Canadian government take to the summit?
  2. The weight of influence that the action items from the summit will have on domestic policy going forward in Canada

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Before you say, “Who cares? It’s the UN and they hold no jurisdiction over food production in Canada!” I say — not so fast.

The Trudeau government is heavily influenced by how they are seen at the United Nations and seem to value the appearance that Canada is a leader in global community when it comes to many of the listed SDGs, such as climate policy and sustainability.

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I will boldly say that this government will take direction from the outcomes at this summit similarly to the role that the Paris Agreement has played in climate policy domestically in Canada.

As I travel across the country to meetings, I never hear “We need to do things more like Europe.” In fact, some of you or your parents likely made the decision to move to Canada because of the burdensome regulations and policies pushed onto the industry to satisfy the appetite of food system luddites.

If Canada truly values agriculture as an economic driver, it will avoid European policy at all costs. Remember too, that the system is highly subsidized which is costly to the tax payer, highly protected even under free trade deals, and littered with regulation built on an anti-science mantra.

There is much room for improvement in all industries as it applies to the listed SDGs, but the Canadian government seems to have a hard time boasting about the successes of agriculture in this country.  We should be shouting form the international rooftops how our grain farmers have reduced soil erosion  and captured soil carbon through zero-till, how grazing cattle plays a huge role in sustaining grasslands and habitat, how dairy farmers have adopted biodigesters to capture methane, and how our products are demanded around the world for their quality and consistency.

The U.S. will also be participating in this summit and their actions post-summit in contrast to Canada’s are worth paying attention to. While the U.S. is our largest agricultural trading partner, the two countries compete around the world in the export market. Canada is much more under the spell of European influence than the U.S. historically, which could lead to Canada burdening itself with policy that makes it less competitive in the long run with less eager nations like the U.S.

In my view, Canada needs to enter the meeting with a science-based approach to agricultural production and defend why we do the things the way we do instead of the opposite of apologizing and saying, “you’re right, we need to do better.” There is room for improvement, but also Canada’s system is defendable, builds economic growth, and creates opportunity.

It is the tone and position that Canada takes to the summit and what it comes home with that will likely drive the narrative of policy changes and regulatory reform in the future — this is why the UN Food Systems Summit will impact your farm.