Recognize ag technology’s importance

We love technology. Apple brings out a new cellphone and there are lineups around the block.

Yet, when it comes to technology and agriculture, the same people that stand in line for the latest phone seem to want to go back to the technology of 1950.

We had pesticide-free, grown without fertilizers, and non-GMO agriculture in Canada once. The result was an environmental disaster, with the soils of Saskatchewan blowing into Ontario and year after year of crop failure.

During the current federal election campaign, governments are under pressure from many activists to move away from science and risk-based regulations to limit the adoption of agricultural technology.

As governments have become more urban, most of today’s politicians lack an inherent understanding of agriculture and need to be reminded what the industry means to the Canadian economy.

The Advisory Council on Economic Growth (Barton Report) recognized agriculture and agri-food a key driver of the Canadian economy, establishing the goal of increasing the value of our exports to $75 billion by 2025.

We will not accomplish this goal unless Canada is at the forefront of defining an international regulatory environment that has a foundation of sound risk-based science.

Farmers across this country depend on access to international markets for their livelihood. If countries are free to set up trade barriers in response to the latest internet fad, farmers will soon find themselves without any markets to sell into.

There is pressure within some of our trading partners to move away from science-based regulations.

For example, we see non-science, and at times politically motivated, regulations on plant technology. Existing and emerging European pesticide regulations not based on appropriate risk models are limiting trade.

Canada should become a leader in countering these trends through the adoption and promotion of risk-and science-based rules of trade.

This will require changes to our domestic regulations on plant technology and farm inputs.

A survey of Canadian plant breeders indicates nearly half alter or scale-back their research because Canada’s regulatory system has not adjusted to new techniques, like gene editing. When plant breeders pull back on innovation, Canada loses out on opportunities to develop small and medium technology businesses and to open up the opportunity to deliver a broader selection of food products to consumers. Holding back innovation also makes Canadian farmers less competitive.

Pesticides are an important component of modern agricultural practices that allow Canadian farmers to reduce fuel use, increase soil health, reduce erosion, and sequester carbon.

Preventing farmers from using these tools because of pressure from activists and without science- and risk-based analysis has unintended negative environmental and economic implications.

To counter these pressures, Canada must extend the mandate of agencies and departments to include the promotion of science- and risk-based trade.

New resources should be allocated across the whole of government, including departments like Agriculture Canada and Global Affairs Canada as well as regulatory agencies like the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the Pest Management Regulatory Agency.

Here are four questions that every candidate and party in the current federal election should face:

  • Does your party support modern Canadian farmers’ access to new plant breeding techniques and will your party review Canadian regulations to ensure that Canada can become a destination of choice for plant breeding innovation?
  • Will your party commit to making additional resources available to regulatory agencies to allow them to meet the growing need for sound science and risk-based decision making?
  • Will your party commit to explicitly extending the mandate of regulatory agencies and departments to include the promotion of science- and risk-based trade?
  • Will your party commit to challenging regulations brought forward by our trading partners when they are not science and risk-based?

Cam Dahl is president of Cereals Canada.

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