Thursday, June 07, 2007

Does Agriculture Canada Promote Health?

Readers of my blog will know I've got a bit of a penchant for slamming what I see to be the inadequacies of Health Canada and their involvement in our national dietary recommendations.

So how about Agriculture Canada? Does our Department of Agriculture do any better than Health Canada in the promotion of our national diet?

Apparently not.

NOW Magazine in Toronto had a very interesting article written by Wayne Roberts detailing just how woefully bad our agriculture policies are in the promotion and protection of health.

Wayne looked at three separate Statistics Canada agricultural reports.

The first report worried him because it reported to him that most independent farms are money losers. The report, The Financial Picture Of Farms In Canada, notes that 44.2 per cent of farmers lost money last year and that less than half of the farms that didn't go out of business since 2001 make enough money for the farmer that he or she can be working full time on their land.

The second report worried him because it reported that most Canadian farmers are old. The report, Snapshot Of Canadian Agriculture, notes that the average age of a farmer in Canada is 52 years old, up 5 years from the report in 2001, and that there's been a 25% drop in farmers under the age of 35. For NOW Magazine's Wayne Roberts, that suggests that the days of the family farm are indeed numbered.

Wayne's also worried that fewer than 6,000 farms account for roughly 40% of farm gate sales. His worry is that should there be any type of crisis, much of Canada will be left without any local food supply,

"This is not a system designed with any regard for resilience, surge capacity, robust response to crises or due diligence by politicians and health officials."
Wayne's also concerned by what he sees to be a disconnect between Health Canada and Agriculture policy. To quote Wayne,
"Alert health officials might also be alarmed by another trend. There's little relation between what Canadian farmers grow and what Canadian health guidelines say people should eat. The government puts $4.8 billion a year into programs that fund farmers, but there's no sign that one of those dollars is attached to any directive about enviro or dietary health goals. About half of Canada's farms raise livestock of various kinds, beef cattle way out ahead, and about 40 per cent raise field crops (wheat, hay, canola, feed corn, etc), much of which goes to feed livestock or, more recently, to fuel cars.

Only 5.5 per cent of farms produce fruit and veg. Sweet corn, tasty but devoid of many nutrients, takes up a quarter of the land devoted to fruit and veg, and potatoes, most destined for heart-dumb French fries and potato chips, take up much of the rest. The best fruit lands are devoted to grapes for wine, said to be good for the heart but bad for cancer, and displace apples and tender fruit, good for both.

You'd never know, in short, that Canada's Food Guide was drawn up by the same government and paid for by the same taxpayers who fund and support contrary products in agriculture. I think "two solitudes" was the phrase a novelist once used to describe this Canadian trait."
It's an interesting argument and one that I'm not sure I'm qualified to weigh in on as I'm not someone well versed enough in what our soils are good at producing and the economies of scale of which crops are the smartest to produce and subsidize.

But it certainly wouldn't surprise me to learn that our government's out to lunch on Agriculture policy due to the enormity of the industry we're talking about and the nature of politics and its catering to the folks with the deepest pockets.