The emerging managed food chain

Farm & Countryside Commentary by Elbert van Donkersgoed

Editor's NOTE

This column was adapted from one of Elbert van Donkersgoed's weekly radio chats, called Corner Post, which are aired weekly on CFCO Radio in Chatham and CKNX Radio in Wingham, Ontario. Elbert is the Strategic Policy Advisor of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario, which is working hard to create a more satisfying and sustainable model for farming in the province. If you'd like to receive a transcript of Elbert's Corner Post address each week, send an email to evd@christianfarmers.org with SUBSCRIBE as the message.

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April 9, 2003: Food retailers have started redesigning our food system in response to what they believe consumers want and for what they think consumers will pay.

They are big enough, AND concentrated enough, to have their way:

  • McDonald's wants the eggs they serve to be laid by hens with more square inches of living space per bird in the poultry cages that dominate North American egg production.
  • Better Beef, the Guelph-based business that slaughters 90 percent of Ontario's cattle, accepts regular audits by Wendy's of burger fame. It is part of their contract to supply Wendy's burger patties right across Canada.The audit starts with the condition of the cattle as they arrive by truck
    from farms across the province.The review examines every step in the process plant to the patties being loaded on trucks for shipment. Better Beef is meeting standards above and beyond that required by the Canadian
    Food Inspection Agency. It makes one wonder if Wendy's will next want toaudit the farms that provide the cattle.
  • Many of Ontario's farm commodities have launched quality assurance programs and identification systems. Poultry is adopting HACCP - Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points. Pork has developed CQA - Canadian Quality Assurance. Wine makers have been at the leading edge with VQA - Vintner's Quality Assurance. All of these are standardized management systems designed to allow retailers the ability to deliver a consistent, quality product to consumers.

Most of these developments benefit our food system. We are producing better and safer food.

But there is a cost for family farmers. These standardizations, driven by the interests of a few retailers, are turning the food chain into a managed system—managed by the concentrated market clout of retailers. There is no guarantee that extra on-farm costs can be recovered from this managed marketplace.

Primary food production in Ontario, the growing and raising of the raw food stuffs, that are eventually transformed into those choice products crowding superstore shelves, remains almost exclusively in the hands of family farmers. But the emerging structure of the food chain is taking more and more of the decision making out of the hands of farm entrepreneurs.

The structure of the food chain is becoming less and less friendly to the family farm. A managed food chain—a top-down managed food chain—is replacing the traditional food system where family farmers harvest creation's abundance and deliver nature's bounty to competitive markets.

This is one of the primary reasons why the Christian Farmers Federation is proposing a new vision for Ontario agriculture—one that includes family farmers in the design and control of the emerging managed food chain .

For more on the myths about hunger and the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, a Christian response to hunger visit


Corner Post can be heard weekly on CFCO Radio, Chatham and CKNX Radio, Wingham, Ontario. Corner Post is archived on the website of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario: www.christianfarmers.org. To be added to the electronic distribution list of Corner Post, send email to evd@christianfarmers.org with SUBSCRIBE as the message. To remove your name, send email with UNSUBSCRIBE as the message.