I wrote my column for our local paper this week on the agriculture issues and policy platforms of the major political parties running in our current federal election. I watched the online debate by the agriculture representatives of each party and attended our local candidates debate, which included Elizabeth May, the party leader for the Greens who hopes to become elected in our riding. I thought it would be straightforward, but found myself wading in the muddy waters of political posturing and subtle smokescreens.
Surprisingly, it was not the Conservatives, the Liberals or the NDP that deviated from their stated platforms. At the Pender Island federal candidate debate, Elizabeth May made a comment about eggs and food safety which didn't ring true. As the candidate that hopes to change things in Ottawa, resorting to comments that are misleading and perhaps even calculating is unsettling to me. As candidate for my riding, Saanich-Gulf Islands, Elizabeth May has worked hard to gain friends and supporters since her arrival to our region in 2009.
Could I have heard her comment wrong "that there are grocery stores in Canada that import eggs from China on a regular basis"? Perhaps she didn't mean eggs from China, since she quickly followed with garlic from China. But I heard that on Mayne Island she made the same comment about eggs from China.
As an agrologist, farmer and writer of food issues I am concerned about misinformation about our food system. It may not be a perfect system, but there are many dedicated people producing food in Canada and our egg farmers produce a product that is consistently safe. The supply managed component that is a unique strength of our farming system ensures that most of the eggs that we do consume are produced here. At various levels of government and within the various farm organizations, there is a lot of effort that goes into ensuring that Canadians have a safe, affordable food system.
The only country that we currently import any fresh eggs from is the US, for trade reasons. The overwhelming majority of eggs that we consume are produced in Canada. CFIA has a policy to only allow imports based on equivalency in disease status and food safety, so China is prohibited from exporting fresh shell eggs to Canada. The Canadian Food Inspection Services and Border Services have confirmed this.
The only eggs from China that come into Canada are the highly salted and preserved "hundred year eggs" which are imported by the Chinese community in Canada for cultural reasons. The CFIA regulates this carefully.
I have requested an explanation from the Green Party on this, and the person that got back to me said they would look into it. They weren't sure about the details.
Recently the Pender Island debate was put on youtube, and I carefully listened to the debate again to verify that I heard it right - and I did hear it right.
I am disappointed that a leader who has made the assertion that they are different, they will bring back true democracy etc. etc. are really no different from most other politicians. In the course of looking for any video on the debate I saw several videos of Elizabeth May that show an articulate, passionate woman who is dedicated to becoming elected, not only to elevate the environment as a major issue, but she also seems to be intent on furthering her career and getting on the political map.
One positive thing I did learn from researching the parties for my Farmers Stand column, is that there is a great interest in mainstreaming greener policies in our traditional parties which many think would make the Green Party redundant in many ways, and in an effort to be "different" they might appear more on the fringe. It has been suggested that the Greens join one of the other parties, or perhaps operate as an NGO and anoint Green-Liberal, Green-NDP and maybe even Green-Conservative candidates.
Update: I received an email response from Gerry Ritz, MP and Federal Minister of Agriculture. I had written to both Ms. May and Minister Ritz about the claim made by Ms. May. Although I have not heard from Ms. May, now MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands, I did receive a reply from Minister Ritz. It is as follows:
Barbara Johnstone Grimmer, PAg
2310 Grimmer Road
Pender Island, British Columbia V0N 2M1
Dear Ms. Johnstone Grimmer:
Thank you for your email regarding a claim that Canadian grocery stores import eggs from China. I appreciate being made aware of your views, as well as your confidence in the Canadian system.
You are correct that at this time it would be illegal to import table eggs from the domestic hen (species Gallus domesticus) into Canada from China. A country must meet the requirements of the Canadian Egg Regulations prior to being approved to export table eggs to Canada. Approval is based on the foreign country having grade requirements, conditions of preparation of the food, and an inspection system that are substantially equivalent to those prescribed by the Canadian regulations. China has never been approved, nor has it ever requested a review for approval.
If a country obtains approval, the Canadian importer would still require an import permit from Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada. As well, all imports of table eggs require inspection by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Official government records do not show any imports of Gallus domesticus table eggs from China; however, data from Statistics Canada reports legal imports from China of 1.4 million dozen preserved or cooked eggs from other bird species, such as ducks.
I trust that this information is of assistance. Again, thank you for writing.
Gerry Ritz, PC, MP