By Ian McKillop
Answering Consumers’ Tough Questions
By Ian McKillop
Did you know that only 30 per cent of Canadians believe that the Canadian food system is heading in the right direction? And that 93 per cent of Canadians know little or nothing about Canadian farming practices? These findings, from recent research done by the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity, are alarming and should be of concern to everyone involved in the food system in Canada – from farmers, to processors, to retailers.
What can we do about it and how can we get our message out? The good news is that while many Canadians know little about farming, over 60 per cent indicated that they would like to know more. As farmers and the food industry, we have a huge opportunity to engage with Canadians and build trust in our food system.
The task of getting our message out is extremely difficult. No one industry or organization can do the work that needs to be done; it has to be a collaborative effort. There are many excellent Canadian initiatives underway — each with a slightly different focus and mandate but each providing important tools to promote Canadian food, farmers, and agriculture.
Farm & Food Care, Agriculture More than Ever, and Agriculture in the Classroom, along with countless commodity specific programs all at various stages of their growth, are doing tremendous work in being agricultural advocates.
Two months ago I was honoured to become chair of Farm & Food Care Canada. For those who haven’t heard of this organization, it’s a framework of farmers, food companies, input suppliers, and associations created in 2011 with a mandate to provide credible information about food and farming in this country.
Farm & Food Care Canada is also home to the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity (CCFI). The CCFI will be another source of credible information on food and farming related issues — information and research that has been compiled by trusted professionals within the Canadian and U.S. food industries.
One of the key elements related to the structure of Farm & Food Care Canada is the collaborative approach that it brings to the table. The ability to collaborate and work together with the groups mentioned above — and others — is unique and gives us a great opportunity to connect with consumers.
As we move forward, it is critical that all of us involved in the Canadian food industry (yes, that includes farmers) must put our personal agendas and biases aside and work together to get the good news story out about Canada’s food system. If we don’t tell our story, who is going to talk to the 60 per cent of Canadians that want to know more about farming?
Over the last few years, we have seen some common farm practices — practices that we as farmers think are normal — come into the spotlight. As a result, some poultry and hog farmers are facing the fact that they’ll have to adopt new, costly housing methods for their livestock and some crop farmers will have to adopt alternative methods to protect the seeds they plant.
I can’t help but think that if there was a framework such as Farm & Food Care Canada 25 years ago, and if the average Canadian consumer had better access to accurate information, then maybe some of the challenges we face today could have been overcome.
The work ahead is huge and we will not have success overnight. However, the ground work that we lay together as a united agriculture and food industry today will help to ensure that the Canadian food system is trusted, healthy, sustainable, and robust for years to come.
Ian McKillop is the Chair of Food & Farm Care Canada, a coalition of farmers, associations and businesses proactively working together with a commitment to provide credible information and strengthen sustainable food and farming for the future.
McKillop is a fifth-generation egg, beef and grain farmer in Elgin County, Ontario and has a proven track record for leadership. He has been a board member of Farm & Food Care Ontario since its inception in 2010, while balancing his time on his busy farm with his young family. McKillop served as a board member for the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association for five years, and chaired the National Farm Animal Care Council’s Beef Cattle Codes of Practice committee. He also served as president of the Ontario Cattlemen’s Association between 2005 and 2008.