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Freedom to choose -and lose

There’s an ugly little scenario playing out alongside the Maple Leaf recall fallout.  A recent Globe and Mail story leaked the fact that US authorities were pushing Canadian meat processors to implement stricter guidelines, including more frequent inspections by federal officials. What’s good for the US must be good for Canada, right?


September 3, 2008
By Ralph Pearce

There’s an ugly little scenario
playing out alongside the Maple Leaf recall fallout.  A recent Globe
and Mail story leaked the fact that US authorities were pushing
Canadian meat processors to implement stricter guidelines, including
more frequent inspections by federal officials.

   What’s good for the US must be good for Canada, right?

   Well, it may be good, but it’s certainly not attainable overnight.
And as a recent survey of consumers indicated, Canadians are a not a
patient bunch. We’re building on this rather distasteful sense of
entitlement in our country.

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   The Canadian consumer seems to have a fleeting fascination with the
issue of the day. In 2000, it was the Walkerton crisis, sparking calls
for an end to factory hog farming. This, despite the fact that hogs have
lower levels of E. coli bacteria in their bodies than cows or other
ruminants, which were determined to be the cause of the outbreak. In
2003, it was BSE in beef cattle, pushing the processing industry for
testing of every animal (at a cost to be endured by the producer, no
less). And in 2008, it’s been the spectacle surrounding ‘Hockey Night
in Canada’s’ new theme song, with calls to protect what some people
refer to as the country’s second ‘national anthem’.

   If I yawn, it’s only in anticipation.

   What this says to me is that we have too many choices for too few
people.  If the USDA is pushing for more inspectors and stringent
methods to reduce the presence of the listeria bacterium, and if we
want to export processed meats to the US, well, guess what?  They have
every right to impose their standards on us, regardless of our
contention they’re too strict; it’s their country.

   But the sub-plot to these little dramas comes in two forms: money
and choice. The US boasts a population of nearly 300 million people
from which to draw its taxes and pay for services.

   Compare that to Canada, where we are the second largest country in
the world, a tremendous source of pride but also a huge challenge. With
just 33 million people spread far and wide, there’s only so far our tax
dollars can carry us. I was offering this as an explanation to my
younger daughter a few weeks ago when the mainstream media sheep were
bleating about our abysmal showing in the first week of the Olympics.
  
   Make a choice! 

   If the government really is an embodiment of the people, aren’t we
the ones with all the choices?  For instance, we place so much
importance on ‘free health care’ we make it part of our Canadian
identity. Then there’s education, police and firefighters, some
allotment to roads and infrastructure, and government. After that, the
door’s wide open, folks. Where do we apply the residual funds from our
list of basics? Do we increase our contributions to the arts and enrich
our lives? Do we ensure our Olympic athletes are living and training on
more than $18,000 a year?  Or do we push our federal and provincial
governments to increase the number of meat inspectors at processing
plants?

   What’s your cause celebre for the week, Mr. or Ms. Canada?

   Prime Minister Stephen Harper waded in on the issue, trumpeting that
safe food is the right of all Canadians (at least that’s how the
newspapers reported it). For me, safe food is not a right any more than
safe water is a right.  It’s good to know or assume they’re safe, but
that’s all it is: assumed safety. Since the food I buy is adorning the
shelf at the grocery store or the picnic table at a market, I’m
assuming  -and trusting someone -that it’s safe.  But the fact remains,
we all live under the proviso, ‘caveat emptor’ -buyer beware. And it’s
a sign of the times that more people want guarantees in life, where
none can logically be expected.

   Sorry if that’s a shot to your comfort zone, but the truth is, you
really can’t have it all. If you want a job with big bucks, count on
losing some of your free time with your family. Doctors earn
substantial salaries, but they also have to watch people die. Lawyers
make a very comfortable earning but they must endure cheap shots,
public loathing and contempt. Dentists, teachers, sales
representatives, politicians -every vocation has its give and takes.

   Make up your mind!

   Do you want free health care and well-educated young people?  Then
accept that roads and bridges may collapse, if only because they have
surpassed their originally mandated 30 year histories.  If you want
culture and refined living, then hopefully your health will hold out,
allowing you to avoid any of those nasty US-like health care fees. If
you want more meat inspectors, then maybe we can’t hire as many customs
agents to patrol our border crossings.

   There are only so many people to perform these tasks, and more importantly, only so many tax dollars to go around.

   It’s called choice -and it does have its drawbacks.