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Human welfare is the star of food production

When it comes to food, studies through the years have shown that people care about such matters as product safety, genetically modified organisms, and farm animals. Most lately, sustainability became an issue too. 

Now, there’s been a shift. People are focussing their care on other people.

Sure, they maintain their zeal for a host of factors that are associated with food production. Everyone wants food to be trustworthy, wholesome and plentiful, and animals to be well cared for.

But we’re moving past that. Instances will still crop up of unsafe food, of food that does you more harm than good, and of animal abuse. Our world is imperfect and unfortunately that trait sometimes rears its head in food production.

Those instances, however, are lessening. Food is getting safer, technology has not proven to be a menace and farmers are paying more attention than ever to animal welfare, as new standards and initiatives are implemented on farms.

The big change now is with human welfare. Society was rocked into understanding more about the food system when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and some items disappeared from store shelves. That new understanding included an appreciation of not only where food comes from, but also, who’s out there busting their rump to produce it.

The spotlight was cast on farm and food processing labour, and the system we’ve become accustomed to here in which workers from other countries come to Canada to help farmers produce food for us and process it.

And it came to the fore when temporary farm workers, as well as some food processing workers, arrived here per usual last spring, only to be laid low by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Besides foreign workers getting affected, new Canadians have also become particularly  vulnerable, filling the tough jobs in food processing plants that others don’t want. A recent food integrity survey from the U.S. shows there’s a growing focus on human welfare.

Some people will say it’s about time. The plight of farm workers there – Mexican workers in particular – has been an issue since at least the 1960s.

But now, in the social justice world we’re finally entering, human welfare issues such as diversity, equality and inclusion matter.

“Farms and food companies may not have considered human welfare as a sustainability issue before, but it is critical to make it a priority and ensure that stakeholders, including employees and customers, are involved in the process,” said Terry Fleck, executive director of the Center for Food Integrity.

Human welfare concerns are being felt in agriculture abroad, as well. One of the biggest farmer protests the world has ever seen is taking place right now in India, where farmers are livid about new laws that they say takes away their marketing capacity.

Thousands of farmers on tractors are on a cavalcade to New Delhi to tell the government that farmers will suffer from a proposed new law that lets private traders purchase crops directly from the farmers, and bypass government marketing boards.

Farmers think they will get lower prices on the open market and that the marketing boards will break down.

No clear-thinking country wants its farmers to be destitute. How wrong-headed can it be to demoralize those who produce your food?

We saw it here with the pandemic. Images of immigrant workers coming here and getting sick were gut wrenching.

Higher standards cost money. At some point, those costs will get passed onto consumers. The onus will be on the sector to explain how its higher regard for human welfare impacts the price of food. But if it’s something people really care about and really want,  they’ll pay for it.

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