Reflections on the year in agriculture -- and forecasts for 2020

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Farm in Ontario. Image: Anita/Flickr

As we come to the close of 2019, it's important to take a moment to reflect on some of the major issues touching on agriculture and food production. There have been promising stories and some that are worrisome.

On the positive side

The courts are being used to determine the legality of actions to curb climate change. In February 2019, this column shared why activist farmers want action on climate change. Several organizations, including the National Farmers Union, filed for intervenor status as the Saskatchewan government asked that province's Court of Appeal to determine whether the federal government has the power to take national action to tackle climate change through its Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act. In May 2019, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal released its decision, upholding the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act and recognizing the government's power to take national action on climate change. This means that Parliament will be able to enact time-limited measures to respond to climate change in the future. In June 2019, a similar provincial government challenge, this time in Ontario court, once again confirmed the federal government's power to take national climate action.

In May 2019 this column detailed the case against the use of Roundup. The power of the transnational corporation Monsanto and its pesticide, Roundup, is waning. As scientific evidence about the far-reaching carcinogenic health effects of Roundup, and more specifically glysophate, become clear, action is being taken across the globe to either ban the pesticide outright or legally challenge Monsanto to address its responsibility toward individuals suffering from cancer. Thousands of lawsuits have been launched across North America -- in both the U.S. and Canada -- against Monsanto and its current owner, Bayer. There are more than 18,000 lawsuits pending in the U.S. Several of these lawsuits are scheduled to be heard in early 2020.

This year in Canada, there have already been lawsuits against Monsanto filed in B.C., Quebec, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. And in late November 2019, the first class-action lawsuit in Canada was launched. Stay tuned for more on this story in 2020 as litigants and their families continue to take on this transnational.

On the agenda for 2020

In June of this year, the column "Grain giants and family famers" chronicled the saga of the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) and its dismantling -- and what the loss and struggle to regain the CWB has meant for Prairie farmers. While the challenge to reinstate the CWB through a class-action lawsuit continues to wend its way through the court system, there are additional threats for grain farmers in Canada just around the corner.

As we move into 2020 watch for more information on changes to the Canadian Grains Act and the Canadian Grain Commission (CGC). These were created in the early part of the 20th century to ensure that farmers' crops were graded fairly and that the quality of crops destined for export was guaranteed through a publicly administered grading system. The CGC also administers railcars so that farmers have transport to get their grain to market. The commission was created to protect farmers' rights against private interests and to ensure farm incomes are not left to the whims of private corporations -- the grain giants -- that at one time willfully downgraded the quality of farmers' crops in order to profit or held back transportation for similar reasons.

The National Farmers Union has recently alerted its membership and others of pending changes to both the Canadian Grains Act and the Canadian Grain Commission, warning that the publicly administered institution is bowing to pressures from private grain traders. The CGC is considered one of the last publicly administered agricultural institutions in Canada.

In 2019, this column also covered issues related to agriculture and climate change. Watch for much more on this in 2020, as food and farm organizations becoming increasingly involved in trying to carve out solutions that help reinforce the important role producers play in reducing carbon emissions in food production. Agriculture and climate change is a huge story, and one that is only just beginning to be told… watch for more on this topic in January of 2020.

Lois Ross is a communications specialist, writer, and editor, living in Ottawa. Her column "At the farm gate" discusses issues that are key to food production here in Canada as well as internationally.

Image: Anita/Flickr

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