RESPONSIBLE GRAIN RAISES QUESTIONS
BY BRENNA MAHONEY
A number of questions have been raised during the ongoing consultations on Responsible Grain. The new code of practice for Canadian grain production is now being developed by the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Crops (CRSC). Farmers ask, why is the industry doing this and why now? There are three broad drivers behind the development of Responsible Grain: to build public trust, support market access and prevent excessive regulation.
Canada’s trading partners around the world increasingly state that consumers want to know where their food comes from and how it was produced. This is especially true in high-value markets. To maintain public trust, the grain sector must be prepared to answer these questions and be more open about production practices. Being transparent about how Canadian farmers produce their crops will build trust.
In the absence of a farmer-led initiative, processors, retailers and food companies will likely develop their own standards. Such imposed models may not consider the needs of Canadian farmers who are already doing many things right. Every farmer I know wants their land to be healthier and more productive when they turn it over to the next generation. To preserve the air, land and water for the next generation is the very definition of “sustainability.” But we don’t yet have the tools to tell our story in a coherent way. The Responsible Grain code will demonstrate the positive sustainability story of Canadian agriculture to its customers.
The vast majority of farmers have already adopted many sustainable practices. When we publicly demonstrate our positive interactions with the environment, we counter those who wish to dismantle modern agricultural practices.
Public trust ensures access to critical markets in a new age of protectionism. Many governments around the world seek ways in which to block imports. Distrust is often stirred by activists and this can create public support and licence for politicians who wish to block trade. An example is the denigration of Canadian durum by Italian activists. This led to country of origin labelling regulations designed to limit trade. The development of Responsible Grain will help Canada’s Italian customers and their value chain partners counter these unfounded efforts.
In addition to demonstrating the sustainability of Canadian agriculture, Responsible Grain will also help consumers understand the measures taken by Canadian farmers to control disease, regulate weeds and avoid toxic fungal infection in stored grain.
These three areas have become the building blocks of phytosanitary trade barriers. Every cereal, oilseed and pulse crop produced by Canadian farmers faces an ever-increased risk of phytosanitary trade barriers. These impediments could hold back millions of tonnes of potential exports and rob farmers of revenue. Responsible Grain is a critical tool that will actively assist in the prevention of trade barriers, keep trade flowing and, in turn, maximize the potential return for Canadian commodities.
The final key reason Responsible Grain is under development is to address domestic regulations that may limit agricultural practices. Canadian consumers are increasingly divorced from agricultural production and may not understand the science that underpins farm practices. This has led to public demand for environmental and food safety regulations based on perception rather than sound science.
Regulatory overreach will grow in the absence of industry- and farmer-led, science-based initiatives that demonstrate the safety and sustainability of the practices in place on Canadian farms. The development of Responsible Grain will ease demand for mandatory regulation developed by bureaucrats rather than farmers. Backed by science, it will give Canadian farmers, exporters and processors a concrete tool with which to demonstrate the sustainability of grain production. This new code of practice will increase the competitiveness of Canadian agriculture and support the use of modern farming tools.
Brenna Mahoney is Cereals Canada director of communications and stakeholder relations. She also sits on the CRSC steering committee and is co-chair of communications for code development.