Bright economic future may depend on local food production

NDP Agriculture Critic Lana Popham (center right) was in town on Monday with MLA Norm Macdonald. She visited high school classrooms, met with Community Connections Food Bank Manager Patti Larson (left) and North Columbia Environmental Society President Hailey Ross and others regarding local food security issues before speaking at a public forum in the evening. David F. Rooney photo

By David F. Rooney

If British Columbians are serious about building a bright economic future the government should be encouraging local food production — not hampering it, says NDP Agriculture Critic Lana Popham.

“I believe that if we’re looking for a strong economy we need to look at our local food production,” she told an attentive crowd at a public forum at the Community Centre on Monday evening.

The MLA for Saanich South developed the first organic winery on Vancouver Island and had been a life-long advocate of sustainable local agriculture.

She said that recent regulatory measures forcing the closure of small public slaughterhouses across the province is a case in point. Their closure cost BC jobs, increased production costs for ranchers and farmer who were then forced to send their animals to large centralized slaughterhouses. When it came to BC cattle, their ranchers now have to ship them to Alberta where they are fattened up at feedlots before being killed, butchered and sold back to British Columbia consumers as “BC Beef.”

“Alberta’s getting the gravy,” she said.

Popham, who meat earlier in the day with high school students and representatives from Community Connections and the North Columbia Environmental Society, said agricultural programs that favour BC producers are not being adequately funded and innovative programs to encourage consumers to buy BC fruit and vegetables are moribund.

Much more can be done — and relatively cheaply — to encourage healthy eating habits by children. At a time when Canadians across the country are recognizing the threat of obesity to the younger generations, little is being done to change their eating habits.

“We’re raising a generation of kids who think that if it’s not processed and laden with sugar, salt and fat it’s not good,” Popham said.

She said much could be done to change that kind of attitude and suggested one such step could be to encourage schools to plant their own small orchards so kids could have an educational and nutritional opportunity to learn about where food, such as BC’s important fruit crop, come from.

Some members of the audience said they’d like to see fewer U.S. vegetables and fruits in supermarkets and asked Popham how that could be done. However, she noted that getting government to encourage food distributors to stop importing American apples, peaches, plums and other fruits and vegetables that compete with BC’s domestic produce may be difficult. Such imports are allowed under Canada’s trade agreements. However, she said consumers can vote with their pocketbooks — a tactic that supermarket chains and food distributors would certainly heed.