Opinion: Expectations should be low for UN food summit

Opinion: Expectations should be low for UN food summit

Canadian producers won’t be able to rest on previous efforts at the upcoming United Nations’ Food Systems Summit and if current sentiments continue, they should prepare for disappointment. 

Planned to take place in New York this September, the summit will look to launch new strategies to deliver on the UN’s 17 development goals. 

In Canada, dialogues have been focused on reducing food waste, the sustainable implications of exports, food security and regional resiliency. 

Sometime this month, it’s expected Canada will develop the positions and potential commitments it will take to the summit. But already we can get a sense where this is going.

Canada has firmly declared that its priorities align with the UN’s sustainable development goals, and policies put forward by the government thus far demonstrate a strong focus on climate change.

The Paris Agreement came out of 2015 meetings hosted by the UN that resulted in an international agreement to address climate change. Like Paris, the Food Systems Summit is expected to result in new actions to transform food systems to be more sustainable and suggest targets on how to get there. 

Determining a benchmark for measuring a product’s sustainability level, or the amount of emissions produced in making an individual product, could be eventual outcomes. 

It seems inevitable that any achieved consensus will be built on green policies aimed at reducing climate change.

European Union members are poised to come to the talks armed with ambitions to fulfill Green New Deal and “Farm to Fork” strategies that, among other measures, call for a reduction in pesticide use by 50 per cent and more organic farming.

Seeing this and other proposed measures that could impact Canadian producers, industry groups are scrambling to ensure sustainable practices already taking place within the sector will be recognized at international tables.

The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association joined with Nature Conservancy of Canada to form a submission espousing the environmental benefits of grazing, for example. Some grower groups have looked to gain recognition for sequestering carbon.

It is entirely worthwhile for producers to seek recognition for work they continue to do to combat climate change, and regional-specific concerns need to be brought up, but expectations of success should remain low.

Making the argument that farmers should be credited for carbon they’ve previously sequestered can barely gain traction domestically. Offset credits being developed for Canada’s carbon market won’t be given to farmers for any emissions they’ve removed before 2017.

The argument isn’t likely to fare better on an international stage. 

Given what we know about farmer enthusiasm for recent green policies, the sector should prepare for disappointment. 

Farmers in Canada continue to oppose carbon pricing, and many greeted the 2021 budget that invested millions into making agriculture greener without much enthusiasm.

In one instance, a commodity group responded to the federal government’s commitment to buy 1,400 grain dryers by saying the move suggested farmers aren’t already adopting the newest innovations. That is an odd reaction to receipt of $50 million to make farms greener. 

Anything resembling enthusiasm for a carbon market involving producers was delayed until it became apparent it was here to stay, and even then, farmers seem more focused on potential cash gains than on the environment. 

In fact, for all the talk we hear about farmers being dedicated to the environment, the industry spends quite a bit of time complaining about policies aimed at doing just that. 

Which is fine. Sometimes policies are bad or are disproportionally harmful to a specific region or industry. 

But ongoing efforts to refocus the public’s attention on past efforts to reduce emissions within the industry will continue to be countered by reports showing Canada’s agricultural emissions are moving in the wrong direction. 

Credible studies suggesting a reduced demand for livestock and fertilizer will help solve the climate crisis often go ignored by industry.

Farmers in Canada should expect more green policies heading their way following the UN Food Systems Summit. My bet is that whatever they are, producers won’t like them. 

About the author


D.C. Fraser

D.C. Fraser is Glacier FarmMedia’s Ottawa-based reporter. Growing up mostly in Alberta, Fraser also lived in Saskatchewan for ten years where he covered politics, including a stint teaching at the University of Regina’s School of Journalism. He is an avid fan of the outdoors and a pretty good beer league hockey player. His passion for agriculture and agri-food policy comes naturally: Six consecutive generations of his family have worked in the industry.



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