Op Ed: Looking A Gift Card In The Mouth

What Loblaw’s price-fixing is signaling about the future for Canadian farmers.
by Emery Huszka
According to the news, Canadians can look forward to a $25 Loblaw's gift card in response to George Weston Ltd. and Loblaw Companies Ltd.’s admissions to participating in an industry-wide bread price-fixing arrangement. While we all like something free, we are being bought off cheaply, and many of us haven’t even began to process the underlying environment that made such a small pay off possible.
For years, eaters have been paying too much for their bread. Many farmers have noted the systemic unfairness citing $6 for a bushel of wheat, which makes approximately 42 loves of bread that sell for $2 or $3 each.
Now, we are being offered a “gift” card as a settlement, and the responsible people are no longer with the company. Is that it? Let’s say that these companies are being truthful, and they didn’t know it was happening. That’s even more frightening. Don’t you think fairness would call for the ultimate recipient of the shenanigans to be held responsible?
The National Farmers Union has been critical of the direction our food system is steamrolling towards. Government and corporations are pushing for bigger and faster with international trade deals at all cost. With three major players in Ontario's grocery retail market, both farmers and eaters are dominated by corporate interests.
These trends are consolidated in the Advisory Council on Economic Growth, or Barton, Report,
which our federal and provincial governments have embraced as the holy grail for future ag policy. As noted in the NFU's Brief to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food (http://www.nfu.ca/policy/nfu-brief-food-policy-canada) , “Barton’s recommendations would sideline farmers, consumers, food sector workers, and the democratic process that defines the rules and regulations governing our food system. Instead, Barton would put multinational agribusiness corporations in the policy driver’s seat.” The NFU is supportive of trade – the type of trade that supports Canadian farmers operating on a level playing field. Canadian statistical trends paint the picture of a disappearing middle class of farmers, and the Barton Report only seems to further contribute to the decline of rural livelihoods and small communities across the country.
On numerous occasions, the NFU has challenged government about land ownership, food sovereignty, and sustainability, and now our federal government is listening as they introduce a National Food Policy. But if a national food policy is to meet its stated goals, it must explicitly support the next generation of food producers and limit the power of corporations in the food system.
As we sit around our kitchen tables sharing holiday meals, we ought to dig into why this is happening in the first place. Start by asking yourself who is really representing your interests as farmers. Who will speak up for you and not for those with the deepest pockets? Ask important questions, such as:
  • How did government regulators miss the bread issue all those years?
  • If this happened between two very reputable industry leaders, what else has been happening that we haven’t heard about yet?
  • Where’s my share of the money as a food producer, my net return for my work and providing the essentials?
  • Finally, what does farming look like in 20 years: who owns it; who controls it; who profits by it; and where do I, my family, and our community fit in this new world order?
Most farm businesses can’t compete with the political buying power of multinational corporations, but by joining the NFU, you will be part of a growing organization that is willing to speak out on behalf of farmers – those people on the ground doing the work. Our members’ farms range from a few acres to thousands of acres, but they all have one thing in common - they believe that farmers should play the key role in our food system. Working with our fellow farmers and concerned eaters, we have political power and the ear of our elected representatives. If you join us and work together, we can make political change.
Emery Huszka is a grain farmer in Florence, ON. He is the President of National Farmers Union–Ontario and NFU Region 3 Coordinator.