Consumers are farmers’ customers…eventually. But in between the farmer and the consumer is an entire supply chain, from processor, to transporter, to wholesaler and retailer, each taking their pound of flesh. Yet, if consumers demand certain items, production systems or products, it’s largely farmers, not the entire supply chain, that must adapt and shoulder much of the cost to delivering on these demands. It’s also farmers, then, that take the most risk in losing access to ways and means of producing food and food ingredients.

When consumers’ tastes change, when their value systems shift or their fortunes reverse, we see evidence of it at the grocery store. Wealthy baby boomers want health in a package, ready-made or half-way prepared. They want perceived nutritional benefits above and beyond basic food, and they’ve got the funds to support it.

Young families and urban dwellers have a new interest in food production — as evidenced by the push for backyard chicken flocks, the rise of community supported agriculture and the cropping up of organic everything.

Consumer segments are free to demand whatever it is they wish, giving farmers the choice to adapt and deliver on the demand, or stay the course and service the more general markets.

Do farmers have the same right to NOT deliver on these demands, though? If how you operate your farm business is a personal choice, it’s within farmers’ rights to access technology, to have the freedom to operate efficiently and use products already regulated and deemed safe for use and consumption. It would seem that our regulatory process in Canada is no longer enough for the discerning consumer.

Does this mean that the days of farmers operating under so-called “social license” are numbered?

Farmers are part of a supply chain and choose to be so — if consumers are the customer, the customer is always right, right? The flip side, however, is that all of us need farmers to create the raw product of our food system, but not all of us are putting increasingly stringent demands on how that food is produced. Farmers need to be profitable to continue their commitment to the career, full stop. And we know that consumer trends are not based on science or efficiency, they’re based on perception, belief systems and wants.

If enough consumers want products that flow from a very specific production system, they’ll get it — that’s supply and demand. But if enough consumers want products banned or technology eliminated from alternative production systems, is that acceptable? If consumers can choose organic food or conventional, shouldn’t farmers be able to choose the same?

The technology farmers use — especially when it concerns pesticides or biotechnology — is only accessible because it has gone through an extensive regulatory process. You can “believe” one production system is safer and better and tastier, but our regulatory process deems them equivalent, in terms of safety. So, then, if consumers have a beef with a product or technology, why can they simply ignore or circumvent the regulatory process and have it banned anyway?

In an environment of increasing pressure to ban that which offends (even if it’s only one part of the food production puzzle), “consumer demands” has become the trump card for every reason for change, regardless of how unreasonable or seemingly simplistic the change may seem (a ban or removal of access to a technology does not occur in a vacuum). The reach of that change is increasingly leaking outside of a certified production system and into farming at large.

Have we allowed consumer sentiment — based on belief, feelings and an ideal, not science, economics or production realities — too much weight? At what point do farmers stand up and say, “You have your choice of production system, but my choice is valid, too.”

At what point do farmers need to enshrine their right to access and use technology? Or are we already there?

5 thoughts on “A Ban on Bans — Should Farmers Fight to Enshrine, in Law, Access To Tech?

  1. As you mentioned in your very first paragraph, the structure of the supply chain – where farmers are forcest to shoulder much of the cost and take most of the risk — seems to be the foremost problem here. How it would play out if farmers were to “enshrine their right to access and use technology” such as neonicotinoid pesticides — over and above the rights which are afforded to them currently? If Canadian Farmers stood up and placed a ban on banning neonicotinoids how do you think that would play out with the consumers?

    Of the 400+ federal agriculture lobbyists, hundreds of these groups are funded by farmers and provided voices for farmers when regulatory processes are being set up. I’m not sure how many of those groups are funded directly by those discerning consumers. Regardless, instead of working for a “ban on bans”, how about working on things that would empower farmers to take more profit out of the supply chain or mitigate their risk of adapting to consumers desires. Perhaps some legislation that would make passing-the-cost on to the next link of the supply chain a bit easier if your organization was facing a loss in a particular year and a bit harder if your organization was facing an obscene profit.

    1. Conversely, farmers and the agriculture industry could require consumers learn about the regulatory system in place and take up issue with it, but that’s likely too high a bar to set.

      1. Farmers are or have been on the low side of the money train . Those farmers who direct market to customers have more put back into their pocket due to cutting out the middle. So why do middle produce handlers mark up the produce ? To cover costs but why are costs so high ask that. As far as consumers learning about whats in place I think they are that why they want changes they feel as if they have been left out when it comes to how their food is grown. Yes some of it is plain fear of not knowing but a large part is not being able to have access to the food they want so in this modern world we sue or set about to change the system . Honestly how many people know who grows their morning cereal.

  2. As a consumer, I would like to learn about the regulatory system that farmers have to abide by. Please do a full article giving the specifics in consumer language.
    Farmers should have the right to sell anything they produce directly to consumers which includes Raw Milk, eggs, meat, and with no limits. If the consumer desires to take the risk, allow them and stand with the farmer. I hear all the Supply Management Boards screaming. Farmers allowed them to be.
    Allow the Farmers to put on all the herbicides, pesticides, and commercial fertilizers with no limits but include these on the label. All the middle profiteers should be pressurized to share the increase cost or bypass them. Easy said but hard done! Produce fuel for cars not humans.
    “Organic everything”, if it is truly “organic” it has a higher BRIX LEVEL. More minerals, vitamins, enzymes, antioxidants, etc.. Therefore, perceived nutritional benefits are more than “perceived”. The ‘cides kill microbes.
    Chemical fertilizers kill microbes.
    The more educated consumer does not want the ‘regulated and deemed safe’ corn that the corn pest dies when it eats the corn. Why? It is easier for women to get pregnant eating organic.
    Regulatory process deem them equivalent but the taste buds and the medical conditions do not.
    Sports players get $,$$$,$$$.00 s but farmers gets nickels. Farmers are worth more!

  3. There are 56 rules of compliance before a seed can be planted. There are more regulators than there are farmers. Read the EPA rules. Read the Federal Department of Agriculture standards. All these are already in place. With more coming. Farmers are blamed for pollution. But, it is okay to have your lawn fertilized and weed treated every week. There are many more lawns out there than farmers or farms. And on the flip side, we have neighbors demanding forever green areas. Try and eat that forever green space. I actually improved the drainage of an area recently. When the heavy rain we have experienced in that neighborhood happened, those self same neighbors were not flooded. The drainage worked as it was intended. But that is not what they saw. They just want no farms, and cheap food.

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