Ratcheting up the rhetoric can prove harmful to agriculture

In a recent teleconference with reporters, federal agriculture minister Gerry Ritz linked ongoing issues with food tampering with “food terrorists.”

“It does cost a tremendous amount of money to the processors and the farmers that are caught in this loop — I’ll call them food terrorists — are implementing,” Ritz said during a wrap-up news conference with Canada’s provincial agriculture ministers.

“It’s really unfortunate they think this is making their point. It’s not.”

Ritz would go on to call those responsible “scoundrels,” arguing their actions are both “despicable and deplorable.”

Ritz’s comments came after needles and nails were found inserted in Atlantic Canada potatoes. The incidents are subject to an RCMP investigation and have triggered a warning and a recall from Canada’s Food Inspection Agency.

The use of the word “food terrorist” by Canadian politicians didn’t stop there.

Two days later, Ontario agriculture minister Jeff Leal said in an interview with iPolitics that “food terrorists” were also responsible for the release of thousands of mink from fur farms in southern Ontario.

“The federal government does have legislation now that has both substantial fines and jail time for individuals who have been caught, and indeed convicted, of food terrorism activities,” Leal said.

Don’t get me wrong: inserting needles and nails into potatoes and devastating fur farms by releasing thousands of minks are criminal acts that are costing industries.

They’re crimes and those responsible should get the full force of the law directed at them — but are they really acts of terrorism?

Terrorism is widely defined as the use of violence or intimidation for political means.

Prior to 9/11, the idea of linking the word terrorism to food tampering would have been laughed at.

People hesitated to use the word, reserving it for instances where actions were clearly politically motivated and where the violence or intimidation was so apparent it couldn’t be questioned.

As of right now, no one has publicly said that the reasons they are sticking needles and nails into potatoes are politically motivated. In fact, no one has come forward publicly to take responsibility for the potato incidents at all.

The RCMP and Ritz certainly haven’t said publicly they know who is responsible, while the Prince Edward Island potato industry has offered a $500,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of those responsible.

It’s a similar story for the mink. Animal rights group Animal Liberation Front has taken responsibility for releasing 1,600 minks at Glenwood Fur Farm, leading to allegations and suspicions that animal activists could be responsible for the latest releases.

Those allegations haven’t been proven in court, and a police investigation is ongoing.

There’s no question Canada’s agriculture industry has been targeted by political groups. The vicious assaults lobbed against farmers by select vegans on Twitter when producers opened up their barns on social media as part of #Farm365 is a prime example.

Fighting those attacks and messaging has been a challenge, which has not gone unnoticed by those who cover the industry or Canada’s agriculture ministers.

Labelling the recent food tampering incidents as acts of “food terrorism” won’t help with that fight.

Words are powerful. The word terrorism has an uncanny ability to instill fear and panic in people. It’s a scary word.

Yet the current public discourse seems to have fallen in love with it.

These days nearly every crime committed is linked to terrorism in some way. Terrorism has weaseled its way into Conservative rhetoric, particularly as the party tries to make security a major election issue.

The word has become so common place you could put it in the same category as “the economy” or “taxes.”

Fear is the name of the game these days. The last thing Canada’s agriculture industry needs is Canadians who are scared about their food.

It’s fair game for Ritz to call those responsible for the food tampering acts “scoundrels” and “criminals” and promise to throw the “full force of the law at them.”

However, Canada’s agriculture ministers should think twice before they permanently jump into the terrorism rhetoric band wagon. Words can be hard to take back.

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