Industry thrives while farmers lose
By Joe Meagher
The current BSE crisis is proof that farmers have been sold out by many of Canadaís political and business leaders.
I mean farmers have been sold out, not the agriculture and food industry. Last month KPMG Consulting named Canada as the top country in the Northern Hemisphere for food industry investment, citing Canadaís warm climate for research and development.
Farmers, on the other hand, are falling through the cracks of Canadaís institutions. This point was nailed home several weeks ago when the commissioner of the Competition Bureau, Sheridan Scott, appeared before a commons committee totally oblivious to the plight of farmers. She said her agency had received fewer than two dozen complaints about high beef retail prices and six were from MPs. So it didnít consider the BSE problem to be serious.
She said there was no evidence of collusion, price fixing or dominance by a single player, nor was there likely to be. Her agency, which employs 400, did not speak to a single farmer.
Moreover, the agency was not aware that live animals were not crossing the border and failed to understand what was significant of Cargill and Tyson "owning the feedlots" as well as the processing plants.
Who cares that farmers are getting pennies per pound while hamburger is still selling for more than $4.00 per pound at the supermarket? Who cares that while some beef producers are facing the end of an era, the profits for Canadian packers over the last five months has been estimated at more than $200 million?
The Ontario governmentís actions have been particularly heinous. Premier Dalton McGuinty, without any comprehension of the damage he is causing, is instituting legislation that will do nothing but cause grief to the rural community. He has developed the art of conning the public. He says heís giving money to the Agricultural Industry when heís increasing the amount of money for meat inspections.
True, he gives to the "industry" but for the working farmer he offers:
n Nutrient management legislation
n Sawmill environmental assessments
n Reclassification of sugar bushes as industrial
n An aggressive MNR that fines rural landowners tens of thousands of dollars
This at a time when some of Canadaís wealthiest are either avoiding paying taxes or getting tax breaks. Paul Martinís Canada Steamship Lines (CSL) avoids at least $7 million in taxes each year by registering the company in the Bahamas. Frank Stronach, Magna founder and father to Belinda, has avoided paying taxes on an estimated $200 million in income since 1995 by claiming his home in Switzerland as his principal residence. What happened to governments that were meant to protect its citizens and redistribute its wealth?
Canada has always leaned toward socialism and away from a free market capitalistic system. But over the last 20 years we have shifted closer and closer to an American system of economic ideals. We have done so without an important caveat, a strong sense of justice.
The federal governmentís contribution to the "beef industry" during this crisis will likely come close to $1 billion but farmers wonít see the majority of that money. Processors got some $500 million from the BSE recovery program while $92 million is targeted for increased BSE testing and the electronic tracking of cattle. So far, $120 million have gone for the cull program with more expected later this month.
Thatís all fine and good for the "industry" but how much help can that mean to beef farmers when culls are selling between 7 and 14 cent per pound, and other cattle are down by 30 per cent?