Food production in Canada is too focused on large operations and exporting when it should be concerned with feeding Canadians, says Jan Slomp, president of the National Farmers Union, who was on P.E.I. Tuesday to take part in the organization's district convention.
The federal government plans to implement legislation first introduced under the Harper government in 2007, called the Safe Food For Canadians Act, with the goal of greater food safety. A consultation period is currently underway.
"I see in it, an attempt to drive agriculture production into large farms and large processing facilities," Slomp told CBC Radio: Mainstreet P.E.I.'s Angela Walker, adding there's nothing wrong with that, but the idea behind the legislation is this will increase safety, when research does not support that — in fact, the opposite may be true.
The legislation will make it harder for small producers and processors by adding red tape and costs for transportation and handling, Slomp believes.
"It will penalize the very type of agriculture that we need to have and that has done nothing wrong," Slomp said. "It is presumptuous to think that this will fix things."
Last week's federal budget included a committment to increase Canada's agri-food exports from $50 billion to $75 billion annually — something Slomp said "doesn't have to be bad news" as long as small farmers are able to participate.
Net farm incomes have remained flat over the last 40 years — Slomp called them "dismally low" — while the number of farms has drastically decreased and productivity has increased.
"So despite all the success of agri-business, giving us technology and equipment for big loans and big mortgages … in terms of net income, we have done nothing good," Slomp said.
Smaller local producers are important to rural prosperity and maintaining a rural landscape, Slomp said.
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