Monday, September 26, 2016

The speech Minister MacIsaac MEANT to give

I was fortunate enough to attend the COPC 13th Annual Harvest Meal last night at the Confederation Centre in Charlottetown.  In attendance was our Lieutenant Governor, a representative of the opposition, a couple city councilors, and our Minister of Ag along with his deputy.  Of course, he was given some time to speak and it would seem that the current trend in politics is to appear relaxed and nonplussed, by not having prepared notes.  Minister MacIsaac certainly achieved the unprepared look with a speech that rambled on about farming and fishing and spent more time on the optics of agriculture and the beauty of the province than on anything of any merit.  During the last three sentences he suddenly remembered where he was and mentioned the word organic but without any real conviction or sincerity behind it.
So, I've taken the liberty of preparing the speech I'm sure he meant to have on hand last night. It must have gotten lost when he was spending the night previous reading it over while at the Fall Flavours event at Crowbush that he was so happy to tell us all about because we care.

Thank you for the warm welcome to this 13th Annual COPC Harvest Meal and celebration.  13th annual!?  I think we often underestimate just how long organics has been growing and organizing together under an association like the Certified Organic Producers Cooperative, but this event really serves as a reminder of just how far you've come and hints at the potential for the future.
It's really exciting to see so many young faces at an event like this.  Often, at agricultural gatherings it looks a lot like a political caucus- so many old white haired men ! (har har).  But this crowd is so diverse in age and background and that speaks volumes for the future of your sector! 
Can I get a sense of who are the organic farmers in the room?  Could you all please stand up? Certified organic farmers.  Wow!  That's really fantastic, I hope to get to chat with you all about your operations sometime in the future!  I would love to hear about your challenges and successes and what we can do for you as the government right now on PEI.
For the rest of you, I hope you took note of who the farmers in the room were when they stood.  And I hope you take a moment to appreciate what it took for them to provide this meal for you tonight.  I have little doubt that under the competent guidance of our chef, Ilona Daniel, these ingredients, grown with the care and particular intentions of these farmers will far exceed your expectations.  That's the thing about organic farmers.  They really care.  They care enough to maintain the necessary records, host a third party inspection annually, abide by national standards that ensure your food is free from GMO's, synthetic pesticides and fertilizers and that livestock live lives on pastures, eating only organic food themselves.  
While I'm the Minister of all agriculture, not just organics, and I respect and admire all farmers and the work they do, organics is a particular shining jewel in the considerable crown of PEI agriculture.  It is a constantly growing sector, with consistent margins, strong yields and a vibrant community.  Did you know that 73% of new farmers are choosing to farm organically or ecologically?  And 56% of those are women?  Isn't that inspiring? I can talk openly and with conviction about organics like this because I'm not disparaging conventional ag, which we all know has a strong place in our landscape, but I am confident enough to recognize the value of a community like this one and the significance it carries for the health of our province, ecologically and economically! 
In response to what I'm sure will be a rousing rallying cry from Sally Bernard coming up, she'll likely mention soil health and will be correct in saying that soil is the resource we're depleting the fastest here on PEI and it's past time that we do something serious about it.  So I'm thrilled to announce that we're working on a program based on soil organic matter levels, providing funding for new soil tests that show actual soil health and activity and better enforcement of rotation rules.   

So I won't keep us from the food any longer. I hear the chicken livers are particularly tasty tonight. :)  I promise not to continue the legacy of being a Ag Minister dinosaur, living in the past, guided by antiquated ideas pushed by the old boys club who tell me that only conventional food can feed the world and that organics is a blip on the long term radar.  Nope, I will be an effective, open-eyed minister who will stand up and openly admit that organics is doing great things for this province and we will work with you to help it continue to grow.  
Thank you!

Yep, pretty sure that was the speech he meant to make instead of the mess we heard about inconsequential fish kills (YES! He actually brushed off fish kills at an organic supper), the importance of Fall Flavours and pretty landscapes.  Good thing the food was so good I was able to get past the anger lump in my throat.   

Friday, April 29, 2016

Farmer knows best.....?

Once upon a time it used to be said that consumers drive the markets, and that farmers will grow whatever there is demand for. 
In recent years, this seems to have turned on its head and now farmers are spending a lot of time 'educating' consumers on what it is they want.  There's a lot more talking than listening going on and it's going to be the downfall of any sort of economically sustainable agriculture in Canada. 
The recent decision by the restaurant chain, Earl's, to source Certified Humane beef has my social media feeds all fired up and full of furious tirades and accusations from farmers angered by the move away from Canadian beef.
I've read the statements from Earl's and I've read the criticisms from Canadian cattlemen and I continue to be stunned by the ignorance and defensiveness that seems to be growing rather than fading, despite more information being made available each day.
Earl's was pretty darn clear that they made the decision based on the demand FROM THEIR CUSTOMERS.  And that they only went to the US because they couldn't source enough Certified Humane meat from Canada. 
If I were a beef farmer, rather than tearing apart the Certified Humane label, I would very quickly be organizing a delegation and representative to approach Earl's and other higher end restaurants to see if there could be some assurance that if Certified Humane beef was available in volume in Canada, they would buy it (as they have said publicly, they would). 

This is a textbook case of consumers asking for something and instead of farmers seizing the opportunity, shouting back at the consumers that they are clearly idiots and "YOU WILL LIKE WHAT WE GIVE YOU!"

I can't help but compare it to the situation of GMO's where consumers continue over and over again to say they'd really prefer food without and yet, rather than find ways around them, farmers continue to expand their use and even when the benefits don't outstrip the non-GMO options, continue to insist that the consumer is wrong and ignorant to the realities of life. 

There's been a lot of misinformation about the Certified Humane label being passed around and although we don't use it at this point because its less stringent than organic, I read the indepth standards that Certified Humane farms are obligated to abide by and they're really comprehensive, detailed and fair.  Here's a couple excerpts:

H 1: Animal Health Plan

a.An Animal Health Plan (AHP) must be drawn up and regularly updated in consultation with a veterinarian.

b.The AHP(which is part of the Farm Plan) must include details of:

1.Nutrition program

2.Vaccination program

3.Parasite prevention;

4.Biosecurity and infectious disease protocols, including tolerance limits on overall herd performance;

5.Non-ambulatory (downer) animal procedure; and

6.Euthanasia for culling and emergencies

c.  Records must be kept of all medical/animal health procedures that are performed

Or this one:

Any cattle suffering from illness or injury must be treated without delay, and veterinary advice sought when needed. If necessary, such animals must be euthanized.

Or the intro to the Enviromental Objective section:

"The environment in which livestock are kept must take into account their welfare needs and must be designed to protect them from physical and thermal discomfort, fear, and distress, and allow them to perform their natural behavior.

NOTE:These standards are written for beef cattle, which are raised outdoors on range or pasture

 As someone who rents chickens to sometimes fairly ag-ignorant people, I am well aware of the fact that there is some elements of education needed, and that we can't let the public entirely dictate what happens with farming in Canada, I am so frustrated to note the complete lack of listening and learning on the part of conventional farmers.  I know many many beef farmers would meet and even surpass the standards set out by the Certified Humane label, but their resistance to being asked to look critically at their production and marketing decisions is making them look pretty foolish to those with money to spend on food with a third party assurance label. 
So my wish of all wishes is to have everyone ranting and raving, sit back and consider what an opportunity this might be. Are you meeting the standards now?  What would it take to get there?  If you are, can you justify the label?  Do the benefits (higher price) outweigh the extra work (some records and plans you're probably already keeping, or should)?
Let us not be angry with those who want to spend extra money for the assurance of meat raised on pastures, without preventative antibiotics, and the willingness to undergo an inspection and a little extra paperwork.  It won't be for everyone, but why not accommodate for those who can afford it?  I don't know about you, but rather than fire and brimstone, I see dollar signs.