Signs are emerging on both sides of the Canada-US border that governments are finally considering agriculture and food a matter of national security. You’d think that would have happened long ago, but efforts last week suggest otherwise.
To begin with, US President Joe Biden torqued up the all-encompassing National Security Memorandum that directs Washington to prioritize resources to deal with the threats and hazards that pose the greatest risk to agriculture and food. Find the money to prevent them, protect against them, mitigate them, respond to them and recover from them, he said.
The president told the non-nonsense Department of Homeland Security to produce a comprehensive risk assessment for the food and agriculture sector. The department is supposed to liaise on this effort with all departments and agencies that could be affected by risk to the food and agriculture sector.
And as part of that effort, redefine chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats to the food and agriculture sector, Biden said. It’s not just about how disasters could affect people; consider crops and livestock as well, our primary food sources.
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How timely that these efforts would be getting underway at the same time the COP27 Climate Conference was taking place, a meeting where countries of all stripes are supposed to work together to manage climate change. The US considers climate change – along with the COVID-19 pandemic, increased ransomware attacks, the avian flu outbreak – to be one of the most immediate threats to agriculture and food.
And how ironic that Biden would batten down the hatches just a week before he met with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The gesture of tolerance between them made the entire world (expect perhaps Russia) breathe a sigh of relief. But it was also noted that as countries, they are the planet’s biggest polluters, and we know prolonged environmental assault on food systems has perilous results.
Canada has neither the resources nor the will to dissect its agriculture and food safeguards like the US is doing. Neither does Mexico. The free trade agreement with the US was supposed to bring a North American lens to food systems. The US lead on food security would be a good place to start.
That’s sounds like a scary proposition. And each country would surely claim domain over its own domestic food security, if pushed in a common direction.
But here’s an example of food security moving into the North American arena.
Last week, Ottawa announced $2.4 million in support for a Waterloo-based company, P&P Optica, to help “build and present” its innovative, Canadian-made food inspection technology system for meat processors to Canadian markets.
The system sounds amazing. According to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, this technology analyzes the composition of food, evaluates properties like tenderness and freshness, and its protein, water and fat content. It can detect imperfections and eliminate foreign bodies like plastic, bones and rubber – all in real time on the production line.
What a boost for food security.
P&P Optica is a Canadian-based technology… but it’s already being used in the US. So with federal support, the company will work to convince Canadian processors they should use it too.
Of course, they should. So should Mexican processors who export to Canada and the US. Too much trade is underway for any country to think its food sector operates independently.
Food security is an international matter.