One size fits all

   The two articles regarding meat inspection, as well as the “nutrition facts” points raised in Household notes, clearly illustrate that for gov’t officials and large agri-business one size fits all is the rule. The first group included in the “all” is the civil servants charged with devising, implementing and enforcing the regulations required to protect us. 
   The simple act of reviewing a set of regulations, guidelines and acts is enough to set civil servants hearts beating and consultant’s bank accounts expanding. After many discussions,, meetings, stakeholder consultations, etc…, an expert cttee (of which no one has killed an animal nor seen an animal be killed) will come up with new ways to improve food safety. This will mean that more civil servants are req’d to administer the new rules and inform us hapless citizens as to why they are necessary. Enforcement of the new rues is usually last on the list with respect to allocation or staff. 
   When an incidence of unsafe food hitting the store shelves come to light there are more investigations, meetings, etc…, in order that blame might be assigned and consumers protection improved upon. If one looks at the situation critically and sees that virtually all incidences of unsafe food and/or food re-calls come from large industrial facilities following the regulations. Facilities owned by dis-connected shareholders and executives whose primary focus is to increase profits. To achieve this they use the economies of scale argument – Less employees killing more animals in less time earning less in real wages. More animals than can be done in a conscientious, responsible manner by people who are not being paid well enough to be responsible or conscientious. And when people get sick and die from the contaminated products, what happens? Do the executives/shareholders lose their bonuses, get charged for failure to produce a safe product, lose their jobs? Does the gov’t determine that too few people killing too many animals too fast and for too little pay is inherently unsafe? No, they investigate the incident, find the problem and draft new regulations/guidelines to remedy the situation. 
   The absurdity of the whole situation is mind dumbing. Not allowing people to take home a freshly killed animal until it has been thoroughly chilled! In Europe hunters let pheasants hang for three days before they clean, pluck and then eat it. Are we infants that are incapable of taking what WE believe to be the necessary precautions to protect OUR food! What happens to that chilled animal after a three hour trip in a vehicle if it is not properly protected form the elements? It gets warm and then cold again. Is that safe? Is it desirable in terms of quality of meat.
   The decision to prohibit processing of poultry in the same facility as red meat is equally infantile. If one goes into any restaurant one finds red meat, poultry, fish, fruits and veggies being processed in the same room, on the same counters at the same time! And when an incident occurs where some fall ill due to improperly handled restaurant food does the gov’t mandate separate facilities and enact even stricter controls on the industry?
   This brings us to the second member of the “all” group-large industrial processors of food. Many of these companies are now multinational in scope and generate billions of dollars in revenue with a concurrent amount of corporate taxes (I know that corporate taxes is now almost an oxymoron) and funds to lobby gov’ts around the world.  What do they lobby for? It might seem ludicrous but they actually favour the uniform, country-wide regulations that allow their products to travel freely across any and all borders. The extensive paperwork, protocols and infrastructure required to meet increasingly stringent regulations can best be afforded by large business doing high volumes with concomitant high profits. If common sense prevailed and rules were put in place to accommodate small processors, where people cared about their job and their products, there would be an explosion in the numbers of such operations.  Places where people knew their customers, cared about them and strive to provide the best and safest service/product they can, regardless of what the gov’t does or does not mandate.
   This brings us to the third member of the “all” group. The banks, credit arms of gov’t and industry who stand to profit handsomely from people trying to meet the strict design and operating protocols. Not much to say here except that the corporate members of this group have again reported record profits in Canada. The person who wants to operate a small gov’t sanctioned processing facility in rural Canada must convince this group that investing in rural Canada will continue to reap them large profits. This is a hard sell and usually requires huge personal investment, collateral commitment and support from gov’t agencies providing assistance and/or guarantees. All of which come with massive amounts of paperwork. All these constraints simply require that the price for services rendered go up and up.  This usually results in less sales as customers decide it is to expensive and find unlisenced providers of the service or quit growing their own food and return to cheap industrial food.
   The fourth member of this group is large agri-business and their associations, marketing boards, etc…. Again, they favour strict national uniform regulations to help protect consumer safety. These large-scale farms produce the raw materials that feed large processing operations. It helps reduce their costs, increase profits and insure a level playing field. Unfortunately, the only way to get on the playing field is with a truckload of money. Small farmers wishing to service a local customer base are a nuisance. Worse yet, they might even highlight some of the inherent problems associated with large scale industrial farms- from environmental degradation to biocide residues in consumer’s food supply. The bigger the farm and the more of the products they use from the vertically integrated multinational food companies the richer the farmer becomes. Not only that but I do believe there are rewards from suppliers for using their products. Sort of like health professionals receiving perks from pharmaceutical companies. These farms are concerned with market share and control, using consumer safety and economy as pawns in their quest for domination of the marketplace. Any attempt by small producers to access their markets is met with tremendous resistance.
   This slow, relentless drive by large gov’t and industry to eliminate small producers and processors is further enhanced by mandating nutrition facts labels for all products not sold directly by the primary producer. It is simply a diversion to allow companies to produce adulterated products by showcasing the nutritional benefits rather than the myriad list of unnatural ingredients. People buying from small local producers, or growing their own food(meat or vegetable) know exactly the nutritional value of their food and what is, or is NOT, in it. Those consumers purchasing food based on nutrition facts are buying the wrong foods in the wrong places for the wrong reasons.
This introduces another member to the group of “all’. Nutritionists, dieticians and other assorted experts that happily extoll the virtues of the industrial food system. There is no distinction in their eyes between a loaf of homemade whole grain bread and enriched fluff produced thousands of miles away(yet baked in store). With the ever increasing emphasis on meeting nutritional daily requirements and the vast array of contradicting evidence regarding such requirements it is easy to understand why the masses of people continue to buy food that has rec’d the seal of approval from gov’t and health professionals.
   The one size fits all theory has been able to work for so long and will continue to work because it lubricates the wheels of big industry and big gov’t. We in rural Canada simply do not matter to gov’t or industry. The economists of the world do not want people growing their own food and getting it processed locally. They firmly believe that economic growth depends on us getting regular jobs (part-time with no benefits is best) and consuming things produced elsewhere. Jobs in rural Canada are not significant contributors to GDP. People growing their own food, harvesting their own firewood is not good for GDP.  We all need to get on board and eat and heat with oil.
   How do we change things when we are not included in the “all” group. We are such a small and insignificant special interest group that gov’t is able to easily dismiss us using food safety as a smokescreen. How do we get the gov’t to listen while the masses of people continue to shop for food at Wal Mart, Costco, Superstore, etc… We have to try and enlist as many urban consumers as possible to fight for more responsible, equitable regulations regarding food production and processing. We have to convince the hordes of people to stop buying adulterated foodstuffs from far away. As much as we like to think that the tide has turned and people are truly concerned about local food and rural economic development, the reality is quite different. The majority of people MIGHT care about these issues but do absolutely nothing to help change the situation. It is a large undertaking and one worth pursuing. There are many groups out there attempting to effect change, and having been doing so for many years, and I suggest we help them in any manner we can.
Doug Brown
Granville Ferry, N.S.