Title: Improving the Food System Requires Continual Attention
By Jenny Denhartog
May 7, 2010
The report entitled The Land of Milk and Money, a report on Canada’s food system, should be on the recommended reading list for anyone who is interested in the production, processing, distribution and consumption of food in this country. Although written 30 years ago, many of the problems and challenges it highlights still exist today, such as unfair and inadequate farm income and concentration of power in the inputs and retail sectors.
The report points out that there are significant obstacles to overcome when searching for solutions. There are inconsistencies in our food structure that cannot be easily fixed. One of those inconsistencies is that, by and large, society supports the free market system, which is supposed to bring competition and therefore efficiencies and choice into the market place. In reality, the free market system has led to concentrated power and lack of competition, thereby disadvantaging most of the society it was supposed to benefit.
While many people, farmers included, will put the blame for the inadequacies of the current system squarely on the shoulders of government, they simultaneously expect government to take on the responsibility of fixing it. As mentioned in the report, there is a contradiction between what people expect from the government and what their experiences show government actually does.
Some will say that the power to change the food system is completely in the hands of the consumer; that what the consumer wants will be what is ultimately put on the grocery store shelves. And yet, at the same time there is recognition for the fact that consumers have little choice over where they shop or what they buy, since the retail grocery sector is in the hands of a powerful few. Added to that is the reality that many consumers are so far removed from food production, they know what’s offered to them but don’t know what else could or should be available.
The Land of Milk and Money wraps up with the recognition of its limitations in searching for solutions. It concludes that people and sectors are sorely divided and blame each other for the system’s inadequacies and lack of responsiveness. That conclusion reinforces the CFFO’s position that we need a food strategy based on input from all sectors and segments, including farmers and consumers, government, processing and retail, even the health care and education sectors. Improving our food system, dealing with challenges that were already identified some 30 years ago, will require involvement and cooperation from many segments of society.
Jenny Denhartog is the Field Services Associate of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario. The CFFO Commentary represents the opinions of the writer and does not necessarily represent CFFO policy. It can be heard weekly on CKNX Wingham and CFCO Chatham, Ontario and is archived on the CFFO website: www.christianfarmers.org/index.html
. The CFFO is supported by 4,350 farm families across Ontario.