‘Buy Local’ OK if voluntary but not when forced by gov’t

Canadian honey producers are being stung by a “buy American” campaign employed by U.S. honey packers.

It is vexing that this development is lowering the price that Canadian honey producers get south of the border, but given that the campaign is voluntary, there is little to do.

We have examples here in Canada where “buy Canadian” became a major issue. Think of the furor when A&W and Earls didn’t buy Canadian beef and when Heinz stopped processing Canadian tomatoes in Canada for its ketchup.

From a producer’s point of view, buy local is great when it helps you but not so great when it limits your sales.

Buy local campaigns are open to anyone. When voluntary, they are simply a marketing tool like many others.

Where they become a problem is when people are brainwashed into thinking that local is always better than imported, and even worse, when governments try to enforce local buying through trade barriers.

The supposed superiority of local food has become a mantra among some celebrity chefs and environmentalists.

Going on gut feelings, without much serious research, they argue that food grown locally has a smaller carbon footprint because it travels fewer kilometres to get to the dinner plate. They also paint a picture that nearby farmers are more environmentally or socially aware simply because they are local.

In reality, the majority of food’s carbon footprint is in the inputs used to produce it, not in transportation. Once tonnes of food are loaded on a big truck or ship, the fuel used to move each kilogram many kilometres is so tiny that it is almost irrelevant.

And climate plays a big part in the efficiency of food production. Transporting fruits and vegetables from warm areas where the climate allows the crops to thrive is more efficient than growing them in heated greenhouses.

As for being socially aware, that is an attribute unrelated to geography.

In the case of U.S. honey packers, they decided to employ the buy American strategy to address a scandal where two big packers improperly imported cheap Chinese honey, which critics say is produced by beekeepers who use antibiotics that that are not allowed in North America.

The packers had attempted to avoid paying U.S. duties of more than 200 percent on Chinese honey. The duties were imposed because the U.S. government found the honey was dumped at less than its fair market value.

Indeed, Canadian beekeepers also complain about cheap, imported Chinese honey in product packaged in this country.

Now that U.S. packers buy only American honey, they are helping American producers but blocking out Canadian producers, whose honey is at least as good, safe and fairly produced as U.S. product and possibly better.

If a product that is imported is determined to be tainted, dangerous or dumped at a price below the cost of production, then it should be blocked by the government.

But to push a “buy local” government policy, as U.S. President Donald Trump does, simply to protect local industry and jobs, inhibits the competition that encourages innovation, drives efficiency, reduces inputs like energy and lowers costs.

Buying local is fine when it is voluntary, but when imposed by government it dampens economic growth and hurts us all.

Bruce Dyck, Barb Glen, Brian MacLeod, D’Arce McMillan and Michael Raine collaborate in the writing of Western Producer editorials.

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