Evidence of meeting #12 for Agriculture and Agri-Food in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was management.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Richard Robert  Chair, Canadian Farm Business Management Council
  • Heather Watson  General Manager, Canadian Farm Business Management Council
  • Ted Zettel  General Manager, Organic Meadow Co-operative
  • Bob Seguin  Excutive Director, George Morris Centre
  • Johanne Van Rossum  President, Fédération des groupes conseils agricoles du Québec
  • Mathieu Pelletier  Management Agronomist, Réseau d'expertise en gestion agricole, Fédération des groupes conseils agricoles du Québec

4:30 p.m.

General Manager, Organic Meadow Co-operative

Ted Zettel

We've identified two things. Number one is some sort of extension aimed at bringing producers into organic production, because we have a chronic shortage of products to serve the market. Typically that has been a role government has played very effectively. Most of the provincial governments have got out of it over the last several decades. I think there's a spot there for government to assist through Growing Forward.

The other thing would be to maybe subsidize the cost of the certification process for organic products. Some provincial governments have done that. In the U.S. they've done it fairly effectively through the U.S. Farm Bill. We would also advocate that as a good use of public money.

4:30 p.m.

NDP

The Vice-Chair Malcolm Allen

Your time is up.

Mr. Atamanenko.

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Alex Atamanenko British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Thank you very much, Chair.

Thanks to all of you for being here.

And Ted, it's good to see you again. I'm going to direct my first question to you.

You mentioned in your presentation the fact that GE alfalfa is awaiting commercialization. I've been trying to follow this file fairly closely, and I haven't found anyone who feels there is a real need to have herbicide-tolerant alfalfa in Canada, whether they're conventional farmers or organic farmers. In spite of many promises, we know there are basically two traits of GE crops: one is herbicide tolerance, and one is insect resistance. We've seen some problems like super weeds coming; and there are studies linking health questions to the use of glyphosate, etc.

We had quite a discussion on this in the last Parliament, even after my bill on alfalfa was defeated. I'm not sure if it was by Frank or Wayne, but we had a motion to have a moratorium on GE alfalfa and for reasons I'm not going to elaborate, that didn't go through. We tried to get it into Parliament.

But this is specific. It's not as encompassing as my Bill C-474 would have been. Should we all get together and support a moratorium on GE alfalfa until we really do a thorough analysis of the economic effects? Specifically, should we be recommending that our government do this? If that's the case, who should be involved in doing this analysis? Should there be cooperation between the farming sector and government, for example?

Also, the second part of the question, for the record, what exactly are the specific concerns you have as a farmer with regard to GE alfalfa? I'll stop there.

4:30 p.m.

General Manager, Organic Meadow Co-operative

Ted Zettel

Just so everyone knows, the specific concern is that alfalfa pollinates through leafcutter bees, so it travels long distances—15 kilometres or so would be the set-aside area you would need to segregate GE alfalfa from regular alfalfa. Fifteen kilometres encompasses a lot of different farm operations in almost every region, so the scientific data shows that once you release Roundup Ready alfalfa, the whole of the alfalfa supply will eventually have some Roundup Ready in it. It would be impossible to prevent that.

That would mean farmers who farm organically, who are not allowed to have GE traits in their crops, would not be able to comply with the Canadian organic standard. We would have to either change the standard to allow that—at great risk to our market, because it's one of the claims we make as part of our value proposition—or just go out of business.

Now, on the other side, who is looking for Roundup Ready alfalfa? There isn't a great demand from the agricultural community. In fact, there's a downside to the agricultural community, because many of my neighbours use Roundup to kill alfalfa. They don't really want all their alfalfa contaminated with Roundup Ready alfalfa; that management technique will be lost to them. We've asked this question, but we haven't come up with a good answer.

If there were a valid, open dialogue involving the stakeholders, we would come to the conclusion that this has a lot of risks and downsides and has very little benefit to anyone, save maybe for the company that wants to market the product. In all honesty, I really think there's probably more of a need for them to just prove a point: nothing can be stopped in the world of biotech. They would see that as a sort of principle they want to maintain. When it comes to this one thing, if the government stood up to them, I think they'd be happy to back down and save the bad publicity.

To answer your question, we could come to an agreement on this relatively easily if we could get the right people in the room. If we look in good faith at what's best for agriculture on the whole and for the Canadian people, we can make some progress here, and maybe stay out of the philosophical polarization that tends to be a part of every discussion on biotech.

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Alex Atamanenko British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

In other words, look at it specifically and scientifically, instead of engaging in this whole debate of for or against....

4:35 p.m.

General Manager, Organic Meadow Co-operative

Ted Zettel

Yes, and we need to look at it by itself, because alfalfa's very different from soybeans. Soybeans only move a few feet from where they're planted, and corn moves a few hundred metres, but alfalfa moves a few kilometres. It's a very different type of scenario and it has much different effects, so it really does need to be looked at. Basically, we're very vulnerable to this release.

4:35 p.m.

NDP

The Vice-Chair Malcolm Allen

Your time is over, Mr. Atamaneko.

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Alex Atamanenko British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

I believe I tried to bribe you for a few extra minutes, but it didn't quite work.

4:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

4:35 p.m.

NDP

The Vice-Chair Malcolm Allen

A Scotsman always needs more than what is on offer.

Mr. Lobb.

November 17th, 2011 / 4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Ben Lobb Huron—Bruce, ON

Thanks, Mr. Chair.

It's too bad Mr. Eyking isn't here because, after hearing his speech, I wanted to congratulate him for graduating from the Wayne Easter School of Motivational Speaking.

4:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Ben Lobb Huron—Bruce, ON

He can read the blues and take that for himself.

My question is for Mr. Zettel. In your second suggestion, you talked about some of the imported products we find on our grocery shelves. This is the big debate: How does this work? How does it evolve? Certainly, in our area, the organic shelf in the Goderich grocery store was about six feet long a decade ago, whereas today it's almost a whole section, driven by the consumer and by the fact that the Westons get it that there's a market for it. We could go on. The other one in recent history is the Ontario corn-fed beef program where, again, the Westons realize there is a demand.

Concerning your second point, would you rather see the dollars invested in trying to fight the imports or in helping folks such as you by promoting the value and the quality in the goods you sell?

4:35 p.m.

General Manager, Organic Meadow Co-operative

Ted Zettel

I'd rather see the promotion, the pull-through, as opposed to protectionist policies. I think we're past the era when you can even talk about protectionism, even though it worked well for a long time in such things as in-season tariffs. They were a sensible way, in my estimation, for different regions of every country to make sure they had a sustainable, viable agriculture. But that went the way of the dodo bird in the 1980s.

Now we're looking at a situation where we just have to encourage what is already a latent enthusiasm within the population for buying local product. We know that's there.

I saw a presentation by an Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada official on branding Canadian just this week at the organic value chain round table meetings. It was very encouraging. The data show that the maple leaf sells product, and we can do that.

I think governments should jump on this. There's an outlook there within the population ready to support our local farmers.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Ben Lobb Huron—Bruce, ON

That's a good point. The thing that always strikes me as ironic is that the company called Maple Leaf probably has the biggest problem using the maple leaf. It just strikes me as odd.