(December 30, 2015) Earlier this year a think tank held out the carrot of population growth to encourage prairie farmers to go further into debt to purchase crop inputs and technology to increase production. I was reminded of this again a few weeks ago when a couple of colleagues sent me a note from a private grain trader claiming “Canadian families save 58% on their weekly grocery bills thanks to modern crop protection and plant biotechnology tools.”

As my colleagues pointed out, this is nonsense. There is less than six cents worth of wheat in a loaf of bread, so even if the price of wheat doubled bread prices should not really increase. Four bucks worth of barley makes 400 bottles of beer and so on.

Note: since the 2011 killing of the Wheat Board, the farmers’ share of the wheat price has been cut in half

Note: since the 2011 killing of the Wheat Board, the farmers’ share of the wheat price has been cut in half

The price of organic produce in the store is only marginally higher than conventionally produced food yet the organic farmer is paid a premium of two to three times more compared to what a conventional producer gets for the same crop. So the claim all those expensive crop input products and genetically modified grains like canola, soy beans, and corn are saving consumers money is dubious at best.

Market power plays an important role here. Organic producers are still few in number and their overall production is strongly exceeded by consumer demand for organically produced food. As a result, food processors and retailers are prepared to take very slightly lower profits and pay organic producers substantially more.

For conventional farmers the market power they once enjoyed through cooperatives and marketing boards has been stripped away over the years by the relentless demands of the oligarchs of the private grain, chemical, and seed trade to generate ever higher profits for their shareholders. Now the same oligarchs are pushing to extend their power over both consumers and farmers by controlling the genetics of all food crops.

With the signing of the UPOV91 treaty by the Harper government and the continual pressure on farmer-elected commodity commissions to privatize public plant breeding, not to mention the wholesale destruction of Agriculture Canada’s research farms, it would appear the oligarchs are getting closer than ever to eliminating all farmer market power and along with it any choice consumers and farmers have over how food is developed, grown, and marketed.

It is now virtually impossible for western farmers to grow canola which has not been genetically modified, and the trend seems to be to extend this situation to all other grains as well. Ultimately, this is yet another cost imposed on both farmers and consumers and another profit center for the giant agro-chemical-seed companies.

In spite of the self serving nonsense about feeding the world that comes from the private trade, neither farmers nor consumers benefit from either extra production or the astronomical profits now taken by the oligarchs who own and control the food system thanks to the neglect, ignorance, or sheer venality of successive governments.

The National Farmers Union published a report documenting all this in very substantial detail. You can view the summary here.

Or you can download the complete report.

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