General farm groups across Canada have marked Feb. 12 as “Food Freedom Day” for the second year in a row.
The occasion, marked by groups including the Canadian Federation of Agriculture and Ontario Federation of Agriculture, denotes the date on which the “average Canadian” has grossed enough income to pay his or her individual grocery bill for an entire year.
Food Freedom Day has turned up “slightly later” than in previous years, such as Feb. 3 in 2008, “due to the effects of the recession on disposable income and an increase in the price of food,” the CFA said in a release.
The calculation is a “simple comparison of Canadians’ disposable income and the amount they spend on food,” the group said. Setting the date involved reviewing food prices over the past 30 years at both the farm gate and retail levels.
“This research highlighted the hard work farmers do in ensuring Canadian’s receive great value for their food dollar,” the CFA said.
However, CFA president and Quebec farmer Laurent Pellerin said in the same release, “while the prices Canadian consumers pay for food has been steadily increasing over the past 30 years, the amount that returns to the farm gate is relatively small.”
OFA president Bette Jean Crews, in a separate release, said her province’s farmers “remain proud of their role in providing food under the highest food safety and environmental standards, yet still Canadian consumers enjoy one of the most affordable food supplies in the world.
“Ontario consumers can be confident that from farm gate to the table, the safety, quality and value of Ontario-grown food is second to none,” Crews said Friday.
“Taking a loss”
But a representative of the National Farmers Union wondered aloud why the occasion should be considered a point of pride.
“The point is, should we be celebrating the fact that farm families are underpaid?” Alberta farmer and NFU regional co-ordinator Margo Staniforth wrote in a separate op-ed piece Friday. “It’s such an accepted part of our culture that we mistakenly think of it as normal.”
Furthermore, she wrote, “given the level of inequality in Canadian society and the growing number of food banks across the country, I wonder whether the average Canadian consumer is really that well off.”
Food Freedom Day, she wrote, “illustrates how much farm families in Canada subsidize food production through unpaid labour, off-farm jobs and high debt loads. Farm families are taking a loss while retailers, processors and other big corporations in the food system are making profits.”
Some ag groups are looking to restore “market power” to farmers, she added. “It’s not that we are looking to increase the price of groceries — we’re simply trying to ensure that the farmers keep their fair share of the consumer’s food dollar.”