Cases of food policy advocacy in Canada

Introduction

Preventing approval of Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH)

Preventing approval of Roundup-Ready Wheat

New pesticide legislation

An organic agriculture strategic plan

National school food program

 

Introduction

Contributors to this site have been involved in a number of advocacy efforts, both plan development and implementation.  These cases have produced a range of outcomes, though largely positive.  Plan development has typically not been as thorough as called for by Sean Moore, and this may partly explain why they haven't all been fully successful.  Most of these cases have been analysed to some degree so that literature is cited here or a link is provided to another part of this site.

Preventing approval of recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH)

Outcome: rBGH, a genetically engineered production hormone for dairy cows, was never approved (technically a "no-objection") by the federal government (the then Bureau of Veterinary Drugs of Health Canada was the lead agency). An application to approve the drug was brought forward by Monsanto in the late 80s/early 90s, but widespread opposition to its approval (and concerns about the drug that the industry could not effectively rebut) forced the federal government to ask for an external opinion from the Royal Society of Canada, a body that recommended it not be approved due to concerns about animal health.  All this took about 10 years.

Advocacy plan: There was a plan, first articulated by the Pure Milk Campaign and the Toronto Food Policy Council, with key leadership in both organizations by Brewster Kneen.  The plan kept evolving as more organizations joined the effort (e.g., Council of Canadians, National Farmers Union, Canadian Farm Women's League, Canadian Environmental Network and the Canadian Institute for Environmental Law and Policy) but it was never as fully elaborated as it might be today if a full Strategic Inquiry was undertaken.

Key elements of the plan:

  • Don't let Monsanto control the language around the drug, make clear the public knows it's a production hormone
  • Since milk is such an iconic product, with expectations of purity, highlight how the drug changes the composition of milk and potentially negatively affects the health of cows
  • Use the public health apparatus to ask questions about the health implications of approval (beyond just food safety issues), and engage a wide range of public health bodies to help raise concerns. Up to this point, the municipal public health had not typically been involved in issues that were seen to be primarily  agricultural.
  • Use Toronto City Council to ask formal questions of senior levels of government
  • Question Monsanto's data package and the narrow focus of the drug approval process
  • Identify weaknesses among international bodies giving consideration to the drug
  • Question the need for more milk production / cow when dairy farms are disappearing and support dairy supply management which kept many dairy organizations on board
  • Highlight consumer worries and how that will affect an already declining dairy market.  Extensive letter writing and petitions about this to elected officials by organizations like the Catholic Women's League, the Ukranian Women's League, and senior's associations.
  • Propose mandatory labeling only as a back up strategy if the drug is approved

Detailed analyses of the case:

Kneen, B. 1999. Farmageddon. New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island.

Sharratt, L. 2001. No to Bovine Growth Hormone: Ten Years of Resistance in Canada.  In Tokar, B. (ed.). Redesigning Life? The Worldwide Challenge to Genetic Engineering. Zed Books London, pp. 385-396.

Mills, L. 2002. Science and Social Context: The Regulation of Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone in North America. McGill-Queen's University Press,

Preventing approval of Roundup-Ready Wheat

Outcome: In July 2002, Monsanto submitted an application to the federal governmnet for its Round-up Ready (glyphosate-tolerant) wheat.  By 2004, opposition to approval was strong enough that Monsanto announced plans to defer the introduction of its modified wheat (and withdrew its application) until major markets were more likely to purchase. A broad-based coalition (a strange bedfellows alliance with differing views about the desired final result) and citizens took a variety of actions to discourage market and regulatory approval.  To some extent, this campaign benefited from success on rBGH, with the campaign running over a 3-year period from 2001 to 2004.  However, Monsanto's decision has always left open the possibility that they would put in an application at a later date, once they felt market conditions had improved.

Advocacy plan:  There was a plan developed by Greenpeace USA and Canada, with contributions from some other organizations.  However, the original advocacy strategy was not well conceived and had to be altered after the campaign was launched once additional research on the nature of the wheat supply chain was conducted.

Key elements of the (modified) plan:

  • Look for allies in the wheat system. The National Farmers Union, the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate,  the Canadian Wheat Board, Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan and the Keystone Agricultural Producers all joined the campaign, though not necessarily for the same reasons.  Many organizations would accept if the following conditions could be met -  appropriate market acceptance, adequate segregation systems,  potential agronomic challenges (especially for no till farming with RR canola), and a positive cost-benefit for farmers - but it was clear early on that these conditions could not be met, which cemented their opposition.
  • Studies commissioned to highlight how difficult it will be for the wheat handling system to prevent mixing of GE and non-GE varieties and how this will affect markets
  • Highlight international buyers who will not accept GE wheat and negative impacts on farm income.  The Canadian Wheat Board canvassed its international buyers, finding that 2/3 had reservations about buying it.
  • Argue that RR wheat does not solve a pressing agronomic problem in wheat.
  • Use the strange alliance for letters to elected officials and  media work, with Greenpeace, the National Farmers Union, Keystone Agricultural Producers, the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities, the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan, the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate, the Council of Canadians and the Canadian Wheat Board appearing together at media events.
  • Appearances of alliance members before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food
  • Petition filed under the Auditor General Act
  • Question regulatory flaws in the approval system, particularly the absence of cost-benefit considerations
  • Farm organizations express concerns directly to Monsanto, highlighting how the very buyers of the variety are concerned.
  • Demonstrating at the federal Minister of Agriculture's constituency office, and other direct actions
  • Wheat is also an iconic Canadian product; appeal to consumer emotions which generated significant domestic consumer opposition

Detailed analyses of the case:

MacRae, R., H. Penfound and C. Margulis. 2002. Against the Grain: The Threat of Genetically Engineered Wheat. Greenpeace. Nov.

Magnan, A. 2007.  Strange Bedfellows: Contentious Coalitions and the Politics of GM Wheat.  Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology, 44(2), 289-317.

Eaton, E. 2013. Growing Resistance: Canadian Farmers and the Politics of Genetically Modified Wheat. University of Manitoba Press, Winnipeg.

New pesticide legislation

Outcome: Advocates failed to secure a substantially improved Pest Control Products Act (2002), but did, somewhat serendipitously, help force creation of new pesticide reduction programming.  The debates about pesticide legislation and programming went back at least to the 1970s, so it took at least 25 years to generate a partial success.

Advocacy plan: Several ENGOs had developed advocacy strategies associated with the federal Pesticide Registration Review, 1988-92.  ENGO interventions were partially successful, but many of the problems remained from the 88-92 discussions which triggered another round of advocacy planning and implementation led by World Wildlife Fund Canada and the Canadian Environmental Law  Association.  In retrospect, however, the plan failed to fully appreciate how unelected officials and the Prime Minister's Office would shape the legislation and block progressive advances in programming.

Key elements of the plan:

  • Encouraging the Commissioner on Sustainable Development to report on the poor state of pesticide registration
  • Work with farm organizations (and provide supports) for pesticide reduction plans
  • Sitting on advisory committees run by the Pest Management Regulatory Agency and Agriculture and Agri-food Canada to press for better pesticide reduction programming
  • Collaborating with pesticide industry and farm and commodity groups to encourage the Minister of Health to create a new pest management act
  • Engage pro-bono a law firm to write a draft bill and submit it to the Minister
  • Meet with the Ministers Office and  parliamentarians of all stripes on the need for new legislation
  • Get a grant to write second generation Environmental Farm Plans that focus on sustainable agriculture
  • Survey best legislative language and program designs on pesticide reduction  from around the world
  • Design method and carry out surveys of professionals to create a picture of pesticide toxicity in crop-region combinations
  • Design AAFC's crop profile templates
  • When new bill introduced, write amendments for all parties
  • Draft reduced risk pesticide program for PMRA and AAFC
  • Prepared a detailed analysis of how to create a national program to promote Integrated Pest Management

Detailed analyses of the case:

See Goal 4, Pesticides and MacRae, R. J., Langer, J. and Cuddeford, V. 2012. Lessons from 20 years of CSO advocacy to advance sustainable pest management in Canada. In: R.J. MacRae and E. Abergel (eds). Health and Sustainability in the Canadian Food System: advocacy and opportunity for civil society. UBC Press, Vancouver, BC. pp. 127-152.

An organic agriculture strategic plan

Outcome: Canada has a regulatory regime for organic food and agriculture, implemented federally and in many provinces.  However, many other elements of the strategic plan brought forward in 2002 have yet to be implemented.  Growth of the organic sector has been slow, but generally steady.  Formal work with governments on how to advance organic agriculture and food date back to the 1980s, so this has been a very long term process.

Advocacy plan: A more formalized national plan for the sector was assembled in 2002, but pieces had been developed and implemented from the 1980s nationally and 1970s in Quebec. Quebec also developed a full provincial plan in advance of the national effort, in part because of a more supportive provincial government. The 2002 national plan was assembled unconventionally.  A small group of experienced organic advocates drafted a plan without any formal authority to do so, and then circulated it through several iterations to the sector, making continuous revisions. The plan was particularly informed by successes in Europe, where organic food and agriculture is much better developed at both national and EU levels. Its legitimacy arose from its use value, rather than a participatory process of development.  The plan incorporated learning from the rBGH and pesticide cases, but given the diffused and resource-limited nature of organizational activity in the sector, and very dispersed government authorities across the federal and provincial governments, only some elements of the plan received significant attention from organic advocates.  Subsequent to the development of the national plan, many other organizations developed action plans for specific elements.

Key elements of the plan:

  • Clear and consistent definitions of organic agriculture
  • A uniform national standard, with political recognition of standards, certification and accreditation, and regulatory authority to assure consumers that an organic label is legitimate
  • Financial support for transitional growers and for certification
  • Advisory services and training to support the adoption process.
  • Supports for the development of organic markets
  • Coordinating and advising institutions to advance organics with positive participation and interaction with the conventional farming sector.

Detailed analyses of the case:

The advocacy aspects of this case have not been analyzed in detail, but some discussion can be found under  Goal 5, Sustainable FoodMuch of the current advocacy work is co-ordinated by Canadian Organic Growers,  the Canadian Organic Trade Association, the Organic Federation of Canada, and the Organic Agriculture Centre of Canada.

National school food program

Outcome: This advocacy effort is still underway.  Coordinated by the Coalition for Healthy School Food, a commitment has been secured from the federal government to discuss a national program with the provinces. During COVID, the federal and some provincial governments have been providing funding for safe school opening that includes money for food programs. The national program proposal builds on many successes at the local level, including long standing programs in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, and provincial school food commitments in a range of provinces.

Advocacy plan: Toronto had one of the earlier advocacy plans, co-ordinated by the Coalition for Student Nutrition, dating back to the early 1990s. A key part of the plan was developing a detailed delivery model providing for universal access, with multi-partner funding, including parents (based on what they could pay).  The national coalition started in 2013, and has built upon that, and other plans.  A key challenge is developing a program delivery model that can be adapted to local and provincial realities.

Key elements of the plan:

  • Build a national network, with provincial chapters
  • Create national principles for a national program
  • Support efforts by senators and parliamentarians to table private member's bills on creating a national school food program
  • Use additional avenues to generate parliamentary discussion about school food
  • Develop models for national programming with cost share proposals
  • Participate in pre-budget consultations
  • Meet regularly with elected and unelected officials at federal, provincial and territorial, and municipal levels, particularly those working in public health
  • Make school food part of election discussions
  • Mobilize at the community level with events, such as the Great Big Crunch
  • Disseminate briefs on the benefits of a national program

Detailed analyses of the case:

As this case is still being implemented, there is no retrospective analysis.  See Goal 3, Integrating food into educational processes, and the  Coalition for Healthy School Food.