“The concern over diet and nutrition is turning into a questioning of the safety and value of the food supply itself,” federation president Brigid Pyke told the Ontario cabinet.
Fear of the possible dangers of chemicals in food is one of several problems facing the farming industry, she said in presenting the federation’s annual brief to the cabinet. The federation represents about 22,000 farming families.
Other problems include the sharp decline in the value of the equity held by farmers and the possibility that trade agreements will allow food importers to override limits on food imports.
Stressing that public concern with chemicals in food is a long-term problem, the federation said farmers and food processors are trying to deal with it on their own. “Increasingly, farmers are using fewer and better pesticides and pest management strategies,” the federation said.
But Mrs. Pyke warned that “pesticide residues in fruits and vegetables, hormones in beef and (the growth hormone) BST in milk have become big news. Understandably, consumers are reacting with alarm.”
Most people are ignorant of current farm practices, she said. “Ignorance breeds fear, and media exposes convert that fear to panic.”
Some companies are trying to benefit from those fears with sales techniques that include labelling that stresses that products are “natural”.
To deal with consumers’ uncertainty about chemicals in their food, the OFA wants the government to launch “a broad-based public education program to inform consumers about food production systems and existing safety assurance programs.”
Another area of major concern to the federation is high interest rates, which the federation said are exacerbating a sharp decline in farm values. Mrs. Pyke said that between 1981 and 1987 Canadian farmers lost $31- billion in equity in their assets including land, machinery and animals. The equity figure fell to $81-billion from $112-billion.
“Interest rates hit 13.5 per cent earlier this year and appear stuck at that level. Implementation of the federal goods and services tax promises to increase inflation and push interest rates higher,” Mrs. Pyke said.
To deal with this, the OFA wants the provincial government to reintroduce a program of interest rate assistance for the short term. For the long term it wants the government to develop a program to help farmers burdened by heavy debt and high interest rates.
A third problem is a loss of protection under the free-trade agreement with the United States and as a result of decisions by the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, Mrs. Pyke said.