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The CFFO Commentary: Social Change Creates Evolving Standards for Farmers

By Nathan Stevens
May 13, 2011
 
There are times when a series of events come together and force change within an otherwise stable industry, game, or community. The status quo can change over time as new knowledge or societal expectations emerge. A perfect example is the shift in attitude towards head-shots in hockey. The question arises – are there uncomfortable areas within agriculture that are not being dealt with because the pressure to change isn’t great enough yet?
 
In the world of professional hockey, the issue of head-shots and concussions has reached a critical point. A series of serious injuries, including the loss of Sidney Crosby for a large part of the season and the entire playoffs has brought the issue to the forefront. The result of this pressure was the five-point plan to deal with the situation.
 
At the heart of this shift there seems to be two key factors. The first is that a series of injuries came together to shine a bright light on an issue that was largely being ignored. The second was that an injury that used to be held in derision is now being taken seriously and data on what is happening is being collected.
 
Are there examples in agriculture that are similar to what is happening in the NHL? There was a time when the notion of the environment, let alone environmental stewardship, was foreign to farmers. And yet, most farmers in Ontario today have completed an Environmental Farm Plan and proudly display that they have done so.
 
The new issue that can grab headlines seems to be animal welfare. Europe and California are forcing changes through legislation. Food retailing companies are developing private standards. In Canada, Manitoba Pork recently released a sustainability plan that will encourage, but not force, producers to change their animal care related production practices over the next 15 years.
 
As the spotlight is shifting towards animal welfare, there is an opportunity for Ontario’s farmers and every segment of the food chain to take part in this evolving discussion. If change is coming, shouldn’t farmers find opportunities to lead the way in a fashion that minimizes the impact on the bottom line?
 
Nathan Stevens is the Research and Policy Advisor for the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario. The CFFO Commentary represents the opinions of the writer and does not necessarily represent CFFO policy. It can be heard weekly on CKNX Wingham and CFCO Chatham, Ontario and is archived on the CFFO website: www.christianfarmers.org. The CFFO is supported by 4,200 farm families across Ontario

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