Food giants shouldn’t dictate farming for the future
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Food giants shouldn’t dictate farming for the future

Nutritionists and dietitians are big potato fans. Enjoy potatoes with minimal processing that are prepared with human health in mind, they say.

Even French fries are nutritionally sound…provided they’re not fried. At home, put them in the oven on a cookie sheet, and be miserly with oil. It surprising how good they are, and good for you.

But once potatoes (or anything else, for that matter) get immersed in the deep fryer, their virtuosity is compromised. They become saturated with fat.

That’s how many of us consume potatoes. Even though Canadian potatoes are among the planet’s best when they’re harvested, the way they’re treated in many fast-food kitchens is a nutritional problem.

So, it’s with mixed emotions that I’m pondering a new program focused on soil health that’s being put forward by the heaviest hitters in the processed- and fast-food business.

Earlier this month, McDonald’s Canada and McCain Foods Limited announced they were creating something called the Future of Potato Farming Fund. They say this effort is catalyzed by climate change, and they’re putting up $1 million to show potato farmers how to adopt regenerative practices and technology.

That’s a positive move. Regenerative agriculture has become very hip. It’s less divisive than some of the other offshoots of mainstream farming that have emerged over the years. It has broad appeal.

“Climate change continues to impact the crop and our potato growing communities,” says Jeremy Carter, Western Canada director of agriculture for McCain Foods. “We are focused on supporting our growers in accelerating the transition to the key principles of regenerative agriculture like maintaining living cover, reducing tillage intensity, diversifying rotations, reducing the intensity of chemical applications, and enhancing biodiversity.”

Excellent.

He goes on to say that education, demonstrations, and directly funding growers to adopt regenerative techniques “may lead to achieving healthier Canadian soils while creating delicious, planet-friendly food.”

There’s no question that regenerative techniques can improve soil quality. Farmers know that. They’ve used many of them long before the term regenerative was put forward. The difference is that regenerative farming is more of a complete system, employing techniques which might have been used in isolation in the past.

Potatoes need a lot of attention in the field to grow. Pests devour them if they’re not sprayed. Going on two decades ago, when the anti-technology movement in agriculture was peaking, a GMO potato line was developed that resisted pests. It meant much less pesticide would be used on potatoes, but activists convinced consumers it was a health concern, and companies were bullied into dropping it pronto.

Companies respond to consumers. That’s one reason the McDonald’s-McCains program has been put forward. Everyone seems to care about sustainability, and regenerative agriculture is all about soil sustainability.

So, that’s good. But let’s not forget there are no government (i.e., public) interests in the Future of Potato Farming Fund. It’s totally commercially driven. Potato farmers grow for McCains, McCains sells to McDonalds, McDonalds sells tonnes of fries, and the money flows into corporations.

Obesity from poor diet choices is a huge issue. Making good farm commodities like potatoes even better through programs such as this potato fund are nonsensical if these commodities are subject to unhealthy processing and preparation in commercial kitchens.

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