Food Sovereignty topic at Cawston meeting

National Farmers Union Vice President discusses food issues at Cawston assembly

Colleen Ross of the National Farmers Union addresses an audience at Cawston Hall last Wednesday evening. Ross was a guest of MP Alex Atamanenko

Colleen Ross of the National Farmers Union addresses an audience at Cawston Hall last Wednesday evening. Ross was a guest of MP Alex Atamanenko

Approximately 30 interested residents turned out to Cawston Hall on Mar. 21 to hear Colleen Ross of the National Farmers Union speak about food sovereignty, the farm industry and government and corporate interference in the country’s agricultural system.

Hosted by BC Southern Interior MP Alex Atamanenko, a panel of interested citizens were also on hand to deliver personal comments about their experience as farmers or food sovereignty advocates.

Colleen Ross, who is a “farmer by trade and by nature” spoke on behalf of the National Farmers Union, telling the gathering that farmers are “being betrayed by Ottawa.” She advocated joining the NFU, noting that it was a group that “pushed back” against corporate-lobbied agricultural policies. The NFU contained farmers who acted as political activists, inaddition to supporting associate members who embraced the ideology of the organization, but were not farmers in their own right.

“We need an alternative voice in Ottawa,” Ross said, “ and a paradigm shift in attitude toward food.”

Ross gave the audience a brief summary of her agricultural experience, which led her to discover the NFU and what it was trying to do.

“The NFU proposes solutions to our food system based on food sovereignty. We believe that the policy that works for the worst off in society is  one that works for all.”

(Wikepedia defines food sovereignty as the claimed “right” of peoples to define their own food, agriculture, livestock and fisheries systems, in contrast to having food largely subject to international market forces.)

Ross noted that the present federal Conservative government had become difficult to deal with, isolating themselves from opinion contrary to official government policy.

“We used to be able to talk to MP’s Ross said, “not anymore. In the past we could meet with any government official, except the Conservatives.”

She advised the gathering that, as farmers, if they “grow food that people want to eat, you’ll make money.”

Free trade agreements like NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), WTO (World Trade Organization) and the currently under negotiation EFTA (European Free Trade Agreement) “screwed us over” by taking away local decision making with respect to food choices. Ross gave the example of an Ottawa initiative to request government  procurers to use 20 per cent locally grown food in their daily restaurant and cafeteria offerings, only to be told that free trade agreements precluded this. At the same time, Ross noted, while reading a Chicago newspaper on a recent visit to that city she read a story where local politicians were making – and being granted – a similar request.

“We need to rebuild our food systems,” she concluded, advocating a “revolution” in the industry.

Guest panelists spoke next, explaining how their own personal farming and food experiences led them to become part of the food sovereignty movement.

The topic of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s) was also prominently discussed during the evening, with a number of the guest speakers taking the opportunity to note corporations Monsanto and Cargill’s role in “interfering” with the food supply. One comment from the audience that suggested the two corporation’s roles weren’t entirely evil elicited a moderate response from host Atamanenko.

“It’s true the world is not black and white.  In our society, the role of government is to act on our behalf – we can work with them (and the corporations) but we can’t allow them to interfere with the process (of democracy).”