Ted Menzies new CropLife Canada president | Former cabinet minister wants to help change the ‘them vs. us’ debate
Ted Menzies starts his new job as chief promoter of Canada’s seed and farm input industry with an optimistic message.
As president of Croplife Canada, he says he wants to bridge the public debate gap between organic and conventional agriculture.
He took the new job Jan. 6 after resigning as a Conservative MP from Alberta late last year.
“I start with a smile. I am hoping I can be part of changing that ‘them versus us’ debate,” said Menzies, who was junior finance minister when he was in office.
“It shouldn’t be farmer against farmer. It should be food producers working hand in hand, even if we have different production models.”
Croplife Canada represents the major seed development and farm chemical companies, including companies creating genetically modified seed varieties.
Menzies said he will use his on-farm experience as a debating point.
He said he was an environmentalist when he farmed close to 6,000 acres of wheat, barley, peas and spices near Claresholm, Alta. He will promote that as part of the Croplife brand.
“Stewardship is going to be a huge issue for me, stewardship of the land, and that’s why this job is a very good fit for me because I took my farm from a tillage-intensive operation to minimum till to zero tillage and I saw the benefits,” he said.
“There were reduced greenhouse gases by cutting my tractor fuel by 50 percent, carbon sequestration went up exponentially and my soil quality increased. That is the sustainability message I will be promoting.”
However, Menzies will be restricted by conflict-of-interest rules in his ability to lobby former government colleagues on key issues important to his members, including this winter’s parliamentary debate on Bill C-18, which will strengthen plant breeders’ rights legislation and is strongly supported by his corporate members.
“I will not be able to comment on it, but I have staff and members who will carry the case,” he said.
Menzies said part of his goal is to convince the Canadian Food Inspection Agency that it should be more proactive in selling itself as a protector of food safety and not just the voice of doom when there are food recalls.
“Should CFIA be out more in public in a positive fashion? I really think so because we have one of the best food safety systems in the world and that message is not getting out,” he said.
“Do people want to listen to that message? I’m not sure, but I do think CFIA should be more up front about how good the system is and less defensive. It shouldn’t be that the only time CFIA is part of the public debate is when there is a crisis.”
Menzies said his story to the public and the organic sector will include the fact that he realized the benefits of more ecologically responsible production when it did not seem worth the investment.
“I was cultivating too much, using too much chemical, I didn’t know where my fertilizer was going or how effective it was,” he said.
“I found equipment and methods to manage it. My costs went down, my soil improved and it was my choice. No one paid me a quarter -million dollars to buy a zero-till drill, but it was a good investment for my farm and my land. The bonus was that it also cut my costs.”
He said the experience will inform his promotion of his members.
“If people choose to produce organic, that is their choice and they have a market,” he said.
“My choice was to farm in a sustainable manner that produces safe crops, and that is the story I will be bringing.”