Federal Budget Not in Public Interest

(Saskatoon) -- The National Farmers Union is disappointed but not surprised at the recent federal budget. “The effect of this budget will be a major transfer of wealth and power from Canadian citizens to private corporations – many not even based in Canada,” said Terry Boehm, NFU President.

Six key points in the 2012 federal budget that particularly affect farmers:

  1. Requiring the Canadian Grain Commission to shift to full cost-recovery through fees for service.
    • The CGC is 100 years old and is the final authority for grain grading and grain inspection in Canada. It has always been publicly funded in recognition of its value to farmers, customers and the Canadian economy. The $44 million in this federal budget for shifting the CGC to fee-for-service will not help farmers, but will instead undermine this important public institution and promote a shift to a private grading system that will not be in the interests of farmers, and which will not be transparent.
  2. Eliminating the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s enforcement of non-health and non-safety food labelling claims.
    • The budget shifts dealing with concerns about accuracy of these labels onto the consumer. While it does not say which labels would be affected, one of the possibilities is the Product of Canada designation. Consumers will not be able to effectively confront large food processing corporations and ensure compliance. The change will probably lead to Canadian farmers losing market share as there will no impediment to food being imported and labelled as Canadian and fraudulently sold, perhaps at a premium, to consumers who want to support our farmers.
  3. Providing billions of dollars to private businesses and university-industry partnerships to support commercially-driven research instead of funding research in the public interest.
    • The budget provides for over $2 billion in support for research. However, this research is directed exclusively at business-related research with commercial applications. “Commercial applications” means that the desired outcome of supported research is a product which can be sold to provide returns for the company. The NFU is particularly concerned about possible changes to Plant Breeders Rights which would result in higher rates of royalties on new seed varieties, and broader application of such royalties, all of which increase farmers’ costs and limit options for seed saving.
    • By focusing on business-related research, public research in the public interest is neglected. There are many areas of research we would like to see done that would help farmers, communities, the environment and consumers – without the need for commercialization. Examples include public plant breeding for low-input crop systems, agronomic research that helps farmers work with nature, low-tech season-extension methods for horticultural producers, etc.
  4. Aggressive tariff reduction in pursuit of increased trade, which may well lead to the weakening of our supply management system.
    • One of the pillars of the supply management system (used for dairy, chickens, turkey, table eggs and hatching eggs) is the tariff structure that prevents uncontrolled imports that would lead to an imbalance between supply and demand and thus destabilize prices. If Canada seeks to reduce tariffs on every type of import, we could see severe damage to supply management and potentially lose many of our dairy, poultry and egg farmers.
  5. Continuing priority for negotiating “trade deals” that undermine food sovereignty here in Canada and in other countries, and which, by enforcing rules beneficial to global corporations, tie the hands of elected governments to make policy in the best interests of citizens.
    • Food sovereignty requires that the citizens of a country have the power to make the important decisions about our food system. So-called “trade deals” severely limit the ability of elected governments to ensure that enough food is produced, and that what is produced is wheat people need and want – and to ensure that a country’s farmers are able to stay in business and not be subject to erratic swings in price due to currency fluctuations or the intrusion of cheaper imports into the domestic marketplace.
    • The leaked draft text of Canada-European Union Comprehensive Trade Agreement (CETA) contains alarming provisions such as a ban on municipalities, schools and hospitals implementing local food procurement policies, and the power to seize the assets of farmers suspected of patent infringement in advance of any court proceedings. These measures are not about trade, but about putting the interests of global corporations ahead of the democratic will of citizens.
  6. Empty rhetoric about a smooth transition to a post-Canadian Wheat Board open market grain system on the prairies with zero detail or budget to support it.
    • The federal government has done nothing, and has announced no measures, to assist farmers to deal with the chaos loosed by its elimination of the Canadian Wheat Board’s single desk (which is still before the courts). Farmers are faced with planning their crops in the absence of reliable information about how pricing, transportation, grading, and logistics will work. After three years, Australian farmers are still finding the transition from the single desk to the open market a difficult, frustrating and costly experience. The glib treatment that Canadian farmers are getting from the federal government is inexcusable.

 

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For more information:

Cathy Holtslander, NFU Director of Research and Policy:  (306) 652-9465