27, 2003: Canada's first mad cow has created turmoil
-- and long-term consequence -- in the Canadian beef sector.
The market for beef will be reinvented. Livestock agriculture's
protocols for foreign animal diseases will be redefined. The
value of trade agreements and our relationships with trading
partners will be realigned. It will be one more catalyst forcing
Canadian agriculture into a much-needed scrutiny of the agri-food
system that emerged in the past century.
For more than a quarter century, agriculture has focused
on production. Innovation has pushed technology and management
systems that produce more food with fewer inputs at ever-declining
profit margins for farm entrepreneurs. Whether we measure
bushels of grain per acre for row crops, pounds of gain per
day for livestock, or liters of milk per lactation for dairy
cows, innovation in agriculture has been dramatic.
Innovation has delivered a low-cost food production system.
We have cheap food. Did it deliver a desirable food system?
For some time, North American defenders of cheap food have
been wagging their fingers at the European Union's refusal
to import our low-cost beef because our livestock are fed
growth-promoting medications. Europeans reject our soybeans
unless we can certify that they are free of genetic modification.
Our spokespersons attribute European wariness to their experience
with mad cow disease, foot and mouth disease, and other food
scares. Eventually, under pressure from trade challenges,
if necessary, the Europeans will come to their senses and
return to food policies based on sound science - so goes the
What if the European approach is the latest innovation about
to reinvent our food system?
Consider the call, back in June, by MacDonald's Corporation
for its meat suppliers worldwide to phase-out animal growth-promoting
antibiotics used in human medicine. MacDonald's is fostering
real, tangible change in its supply community by asking its
producers -- who supply over 2.5 billion pounds of chicken,
beef and pork annually -- to take action that MacDonald's
believes will ultimately help protect public health.
A statement by the Coalition for Animal Health, representing
twelve U.S. livestock organizations, cautioned about actions
not grounded in science: "We remain committed to a rigorous
science-based regulatory process." They note that all
the antibiotics MacDonald's wants out of its supply chain
have been approved by government regulatory bodies. They are
MacDonald's Corporation dresses up its innovation as social
responsibility. It claims to be putting others first -- society
before profit maximization. Prevention rather than limited
Our agricultural system - production agriculture -- emerged
in the past century emphasizing short-term profits, scientific
potential rather than public expectations, risk assessment
rather than ethical responsibility. Embracing this innovation,
social responsibility, on our farms means a return to being
farmers first, and producers second.
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