What is it really costing us?

From the Guelph Mercury, Friday April 24, by Lilian Schaer:

We must face up to the true costs of the things we consume

The annual marking of Earth Day seems a natural choice for many of us to assess our environmental footprint and how we might be able to do more with less. This is something farmers have been doing for many years and, as the recession tightens its grip, many of us are starting to cut back, take stock and make changes — and not just on the environmental front.

Food prices are on the rise, say the latest Statistics Canada numbers, increasing more this past March than they have in decades. Groceries as a whole were up almost 10 per cent, with significant increases logged for potatoes (up 55 per cent), fresh vegetables (26.5 per cent) and fresh fruit (just under 20 per cent).

And yet, overall, food is still very affordable in Canada. Some would even go as far as to say it’s cheap, especially when compared to other countries around the world. For example, we marked Food Freedom Day on Feb.12 this year – the day when the average Canadian has earned enough money to pay for his or her food for the year.

In 2007, we spent just over 12 per cent of our disposable income on food, says the Canadian Federation of Agriculture. This is compared to Australians, who spent almost 13 per cent more than we did, the Japanese who spent over 35 per cent more, or the Mexicans, who spent a full 125 per cent more of their income on food than Canadians.

So does that mean they’re paying too much? Or that we’re not paying enough?

According to Andrew Coyne, the national editor of Maclean’s, it’s definitely the latter. Coyne told a group of agricultural industry leaders at a recent lecture in London, Ont., that as a society, we are not paying the true costs for the things we do and the things we use. As a result, we haven’t become adept at using our resources as wisely as we could be or should be.

Doing more with less is also on the agenda of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), a well-known environmental advocacy group. As the world grapples with the problem of climate change and a growing global population, we have to ask ourselves whether we would actually be capable of feeding everyone we have to without using technology.

It is the position of some, in fact, that banning the use of tools like crop protection and biotechnology is a very selfish move on the part of those of us in the Western world who have little concept of what it really means to be hungry.

To the WWF’s way of thinking, the environment will still come out ahead if more people can be fed using less water, less land and less resources than we currently are, and they are for the first time embracing the sustainable and responsible use of modern science and biotechnology to achieve that goal.

In Ontario, farmers have made tremendous progress in environmental stewardship and in doing more with less. They’ve reduced the amount of crop protection products they use by over 50 per cent in the last two decades.

They’ve also changed their farming practices to reduce greenhouse gas emissions — enough, in fact, to take the equivalent of 125,000 cars off the Don Valley Parkway each year — and they’ve invested more than $600 million into environmental improvements on Ontario farms over the last 20 years.

Doing more with less will be the way of the future: how we produce our food and manage our resources and how we use our technology and the impact we have on the world around us. Our farmers are well equipped to lead the way on this and can be a great example for all of us to follow as we too embark down this path.

Guelph Mercury

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