Time for Fair “Trade” Pork

Dad was nice enough to give me the morning off today so I can do a little Christmas shopping with a pretty girl named Jessica down in London but I woke up this morning and the mall here is closed till noon as London tries to dig itself out of the snow.  To replace shopping, I headed over to the Starbucks close by to indulge in an expensive coffee and the newspaper. While I sipped my $3 coffee I got thinking (I know, that’s a dangerous thing) about why people are willing to pay such a premium for fair trade coffee but when they go to the grocery store they want their food as cheap as possible.

When I got back to the house I was discussing this phenomenon with Jess and her roommate Nadine and a couple things came out of the conversation.  First off, people feel like holding the Starbucks cup in their hand signals some sort of status to others and they may not be concerned with the welfare of coffee farmers at all.  If that is the case though, why would people be willing to buy the bulk beans for their coffee makers at home?  This aspect is particularly interesting for me because there was one bag of coffee branded, “From Farmers for Farmers” (may not be the exact wording, but it was something like that).  If Starbucks is willing to give shelf space for this bulk coffee then I feel it is a safe assumption that they have customers that derive some sort of utility from the knowledge that their purchase is helping to directly support the people who worked so hard to grow the product.

At first I was a bit upset because I automatically assumed that people were willing to help coffee farmers by paying a premium from coffee that ensured that the farmer was receiving a fair price for their products but they aren’t willing to pay a premium for the pork that my family works so hard to produce.  But then I started to think more about it and two key things came to light.

Firstly, I have never missed a meal and while the losses on our farm have been staggering in the past few years; I still live in a country with the social services that will help to ensure my basic needs are always met.  Coffee farmers in the developing world don’t have the luxury of social services and depend on their farm income to provide absolutely everything for their family.  That being said, whether we are farming in the developed or developing world, I feel that farmers still deserve to be paid a fair price for the fruits of their labour.  Herein lies the problem; if a Canadian consumer wants to ensure that their coffee dollar is distributed equitably they purchase fair trade coffee.  If they want to do the same when they buy ham at the grocery store, there is no easily accessible mechanism do so.

To fix this problem, why not develop “fair trade” brands for more things then just coffee.  If we look globally, certain countries are already making steps to make it easy for their consumers to buy domestically produced products, helping to support the prices for their farming neighbours.  The UK launched the Red Tractor campaign, essentially creating a full line of food products that are certified to be produced by British farmers to the highest standards of quality and safety.  Today this brand is carried by multiple retailers in the UK making it much simpler for British consumers to support British farmers with their food purchases versus their tax dollars.

It is time for Canadian government to start working with our retailers to start similar initiatives.  Cynics will disagree with me but I have faith in my fellow Canadians.  If we make it easier for them to buy Canadian then they may be willing to pay just a bit more for the assurance that they are getting domestically produced products of the highest quality while supporting Canadian farmers at the same time.

Interested in learning about the Red Tractor? Check out www.redtractor.org.uk

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3 thoughts on “Time for Fair “Trade” Pork

  1. Hello Stewart. We are friends on Twitter and I was at the Farmers Matter meeting. I am a Nutritionist who is a chapter leader for the Weston A. Price Foundation. I started the blog http://www.balanceyourapple.com to help to educate the public about the issues around farming, what healthy food is etc. If you have a look there under the Farmers Voice section you will see that I have a few farmers sending me things to post and others have promised to contribute now that the bad weather is here. I have asked that farmers help to educate us on the issues around farming and buying local. The blog is new and I just wrote an article which included some of my observations from the Farmers Matters meeting. It’s very interesting to me to see you young farmers making use of Facebook and Twitter to get this word out. I’ve met a few of you now as I’ve been visiting small farms and I’d so love to see a group of you in the same room brainstorming about how to get older farmers to see the value of reaching out to the public and telling their stories. There is such a big disconnect between the farmer and the consumer and I can tell you from my experience with clients that many consumers have no idea these issues are even happening let alone why they should care. I am doing my best to educate people on the value of family farms as opposed to factory farms as well. The health and welfare of the animals and the health of the people who eat their meat. My practice is transitioning into more of an activist role and teaching people how to bring traditional and seasonal foods back into their kitchens from seeing clients every day with multiple health issues. I’m 57 and am in a position where I can pull out of seeing many clients and start to teach what I know about how food affects the body. I am passionate about becoming more active in furthering this cause to bring people back to their roots, back to the basic foods that keep us alive and back to respecting and understanding the need to support the farmers locally who provide us with the best quality of foods. Long term goal is to bring back the consciousness of the farm as a complete functioning unit and not one dependent on chemicals and world markets to survive. If you have a look at the blog and feel a resonance with what I have just said, would you consider letting me use this article in the Farmers Voice section with a link to your blog? It is a message that makes sense and I would love to see this happen in Canada. I wonder if starting a petition to give to the powers that be about this would be of any help. We need people to understand why we should be able to identify Canadian products. I do believe more people would choose them if they could. I have clients who didn’t even know we imported meat from other countries!!!

  2. Krista says:

    Great blog. I will follow it for sure! I am the Executive Director at Steckle Heritage Farm in Kitchener. We are a charitable organization, and a historic farm that has original buildings within the city boundaries! Our mission is to connect urban to rural, and make people appreciate the importance of farming. I am a hugely passionate advocate of buying canadian. Get fired up about Costco because their meat (specifically pork) is almost always american, and make choices about food thoughtfully. Your blog is an excellent way to share perspective. Thank you! ANd coffee…. a great starting point. If we can make people so much more aware of the issues that surround food….. we can build appreciation for farming. More support for local food. Benefit the environment and who knows, maybe even inspire more young farmers as society learns to value the crucial role the play in the survival of cities!

    Krista

  3. working on it,

    but all for export as USA is crappy as the people gringo ‘sheeples’

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