It’s about time we connect the dots on ag policies and the interest of consumers

Creating good policy is difficult at the best of times. In the current world of social media, tribalism, issue zealots, and partisanship, the ability to create policy that achieves the goals of all sides is rare. Politicians talk about unity, but what they really mean is unity of their side not connecting with the other side of the political aisle.

According to Pepperdine University’s School of Public Policy, effective public policy will support democratic institutions and processes, serve justice, encourage empathetic and active citizenship, and solve problems efficiently and effectively without causing a political rift.

Not many government policies at any level create efficiencies or are done without creating political rifts, but we can all aspire I guess.

In practice, many policies are made to execute on election promises without exhausting political capital with the in power party base. One of the ways that you do this is to achieve broader goals by targeting impacts on areas or verticals of the country that are not going to vote for you anyways.

Right now, agricultural issues are very much in the eye of the average Canadians for a number of reasons. Whether it be the war in Ukraine, commodity prices escalating, droughts or floods, dramatically escalating food costs or fertilizer emissions; agriculture is being paid attention to now more than perhaps ever in the last few decades.

It’s one thing to create policy that works against a segment of society, but creating policy that works against consumers in general is an overreach and will lead to political demise. “The consumer” is a diverse group of political interests, income levels, and general living standards but they are all potential voters. And in Canada the majority of them live in cities and suburbs.

These consumers have the numbers to sway policy when they are made aware of how a policy may impact something they care about or — more importantly — how it may impact their own financial well being.

I can think of two recent agricultural examples that we have followed closely that demonstrate this point.

In the case of Health Canada’s pursuit to have front of the package labelling of the health risks of ground meat, the public outcry in the newspaper, nightly news, and around the office water cooler was very clear. Eventually, Health Canada had to back away because the idea was not supported by a broad swath of Canadians.

The aspirational target of reducing fertilizer emissions by 30 per cent in just a few short years has many farmers concerned, but it does not stop there. According to a survey by Abacus Data, 64 per cent of Canadians say they agree that Canada should focus on food production, even if we can’t reach a 30 percent reduction in fertilizer emissions.

The difficulty in harnessing and influencing public opinion is not easy. If public campaigns are needed, they are expensive and can be viewed as money wasted when the needle does not move. This is one of the reasons that the tactic is rarely tried by the agricultural sector.

Every month, I appear on Canada Talks 167 with Jeff Sammut on SirusXM to talk to the mainstream about agricultural issues. I am so glad that Jeff takes an interest in agriculture in between interviews with celebrities and politicians. I always try to wrap an agricultural issue around how it impacts the Canadian audience because it has to be interesting to everyone if he’s going to ask me back.

Agriculture is a big beast of variety with few unified interests at the best of times, but that cannot be the industry’s excuse. Agriculture must be motivated to open up lines of communication with consumers and get the public’s head around agricultural policy that impacts everyone, from those living in Vancouver or Montreal, to Edmonton or Winnipeg.

The challenge is real, but there is opportunity in connecting the dots for our consumers on some of these issues. Let’s get creative and get the word out there.

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