Kudos to Keystone Agricultural Producers for their August 26th, 2008 article Press Release “The Farmers` Share” in recognizing that farmers receive a tiny portion of the average consumer's grocery bill. One remedy for this problem is to encourage consumers to purchase directly from agricultural producers (or at minimal to purchase products that originate from local agricultural producers), as this helps to minimize transportation and intermediary costs, thereby allowing farmers to capture a greater share of consumer's grocery bill.
In Manitoba, however, a series of archaic legislative regulations make it difficult for small agricultural producers to market their products directly to consumers. One of the most glaring examples of this is the “Food and Food Handling Establishments Regulations” under the Public Health Act which limit Farmers Markets to being open a mere 14 days per annum.
Most of the food handling regulations are sensible, but how does limiting the operating days of temporary food markets protect public health?
As evidenced by the recent cases of pork tainted with Lysteria and Salmonella-laden tomatoes, there is always the potential for our food to be contaminated. This is true of virtually everything we eat, regardless of whether it has been purchased from a farmers market or a Superstore.
When food contamination originates from large centralized production facilities (as was the case in the two previous examples) the contamination has the potential to be more widespread; whereas when food is sold directly from a local producer to a consumer, the shorter supply chain makes it easier to track any contamination that may occur, and the risk of the contamination spreading is mitigated.
If the provincial and federal governments were committed to truly helping our agricultural producers market directly to consumers, farmers would not be buffeted as they are now with tired, arbitrary, and inconsistently enforced legislation. Granting farmers unfettered access to market themselves via farmers markets, is only one small legislative change that needs to be made, but it is a start! And if we begin to create the legislative structure that promotes small-scale agricultural producers, might we not discover that our small-scale local producers are more trustworthy than their multi-national counterparts at delivering quality food?