By Tom Collins
Cash croppers need to be ready to talk about the benefits of modern agriculture down at the grocery store and at a church dinner.
That’s the message from Grain Farmers of Ontario directors as the propaganda war against technology heats up. The GFO wants farmers to follow its lead and enter the public debate to promote their crops and combat the vitriolic environmentalist attacks on genetically-modified crops.
The GFO began promoting the safety of genetically-modified crops among city residents last year. The organization had booths at the Toronto marathon and the Honda Indy Toronto car race.
Markus Haerle, the director for District 14 (Prescott, Russell, Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry), said farmers need to be willing to talk to the public about how farmers are helping the environment with the technology available to them, especially since environmentalists are so outspoken about GMOs and the amount of misinformation can be overwhelming. That means reading up on GMO benefits and memorizing talking points. The GFO has fact sheets for members who will be speaking to groups. Farmers must also be willing to contact and speak to local service clubs and other groups, including schools.
“Sometimes it’s going outside of your comfort zone a little bit and having the conversations that need to happen,” said Haerle. “They (activists) are out there and are doing the opposite of what we want to achieve. We have to confront those issues.”
The pressure environmentalists can have on grain farmers is growing, and was discussed at several GFO district meetings in January. A poll last summer by the Toronto-based Ontario Science Centre found that 52 per cent of 1,614 respondents in an online poll of randomly selected Canadians, agreed that GMOs are bad for your health. A 2016 Health Canada poll found that many believe GMO foods involves injecting foods with hormones, antibiotics, steroids or other substances. The survey also found only 22 per cent supported the development and sale of GMOs in Canada.
Lloyd Crowe, director for District 14 (Prince Edward, Lennox, Addington, Frontenac, Lanark, Leeds, Grenville, Renfrew and Ottawa), said it’s becoming difficult for farmers to be heard enough just to maintain the status quo, “let alone get any more policy support. Even at church, if you say how much you love Roundup, you might as well say you love Hitler. I try to explain to people, we’re under attack from disease and insects. What are we supposed to do? We can’t all become organic farmers.”
Crowe said it’s also important farmers not be argumentative, come across as humble, be knowledgeable and ready to counter some untruths with truths.
The GFO tried a different route when it came to prizes to get more people out to its annual district meetings this year. In years past, the GFO has handed out work gloves, Tim Hortons gift cards and gas cards. This year, all members who attended a district meeting were given a chance to win a trip for two to the Commodity Classic in Anaheim, Calif., a weekend for two at Deerhurst in Huntsville, Ont., and a weekend for two at Hockley Valley Resort near Orangeville, Ont.