Government Intervention in Livestock Production

In the late 19th and early decade of the 20th centuries, eastern Canada had many small mixed farms producing to satisfy the immediate needs of family. Some of these farms produced regular and others occasional or limited surpluses for the town markets or for export back to Europe. Agricultural activity in western Canada consisted of primarily extensive cattle ranching with limited mixed farming in a few of the early settled regions.

The role of Government during these times was limited to only a few activities which included:

Throughout the middle decades of the 20th century farmers produced for ever expanding urban markets. With the exception of those caught in the dust bowl during the thirties, most were reasonably successful and just wanted government to keep out of the way.

During the past 40 or 50 years, food supplies in the industrialized countries increased substantially while demand increased only slightly. This resulted in declining food prices and disappearing farm profits. This situation fostered a change in farmers' attitude towards government from: "Stay off our backs!" to "Bail us out!"

Governments responded like the Arab's camel who, seeking relief from a sand storm, was allowed to place his nostrils inside the canopy. With much unobtrusive wheedling, the beast subsequently managed to insert a little more and a little more until it eventually filled the entire tent. Now we have intervention at the global, national, regional and even local levels of government.

National and Regional Intervention

Stabilization Programs for Agriculture

Governments, both national and regional in Canada and many other countries, attempt to insure adequate income for farmers through a multitude of programs ranging from establishment of protective barriers through direct input and output subsidies, storage and transport assistance, preferential taxation and interest measures, disaster relief, supply management, and safety nets, to a multitude of ingenious but often unsuccessful farm income stabilization programs. Such activities create a number of problems such as uncertainty regarding their effectiveness and frequent attacks by other countries contending these are unfair, trade-distorting support.

Involvement With Human and Animal Health

Responsibilities for safety and quality of food products are shared by various levels of government. The federal government is responsible for animal health on a national basis and focuses on the most important diseases that might endanger health of people and animals across the entire country. Notable successes through federal or federal-provincial programmes are the complete eradication of tuberculosis and almost total eradication of brucellosis from Canadian cattle. Various laboratories within the federal government routinely monitor animal and product specimens for contagious diseases and undesirable residues. The Health of Animals Branch within Agriculture and Agri-food Canada also establishes regulations for importation of live animals or products and insures that these are followed. They also must perform necessary health tests and issue permits covering animals, semen or embryos destined for export to other countries.

Provincial governments also provide disease control programs (mastitis control, swine herd health, poultry flock health) and diagnostic services to satisfy local needs. Their inspectors supervise dairies, hatcheries, grading stations and abattoirs that sell their products only within the province.

Government inspectors must now examine and certify each carcass as fit for human consumption. In Canada, federal inspectors must approve anything that might be exported to some other country or even to another province. Similarly, provincial inspection is performed on products sold within the province. Local governments are also active in the protection of public health through inspection of the non-exporting food processors and all restaurants within their jurisdiction. Government inspectors also grade products for quality (appearance).

Federal and provincial governments also cooperate in disease recording and control.

Environmental Protection

The federal, provincial and local or municipal governments all have acts, regulations, guidelines and bylaws concerning the environmental concerns related to both crop and animal production. Since most aspects of agriculture are under provincial jurisdiction, each province administers a wide variety of legislation affecting farmers and farming practices. These encompass environmental protection and conservation through specifying standards for waste management, dead stock disposal, soil conservation, use of agrichemicals and numerous other agents or factors that may affect the surrounding ecology.

Local or regional councils also have authority to formulate and enforce general land use plans and zoning bylaws. Some demand that farmers prepare and file a manure management-environmental protection plan as part of their application to expand or to renovate livestock facilities.

Many municipalities now experience some friction between farmers and urbanites who moved out of the city to small rural properties. Occasionally farmers must defend themselves against charges of noise, dust or odor pollution. Ontario, like many other regions, has a "Farm Practices Protection Act" that attempts to define which smells and sounds are normal and should be tolerated by neighbors. While this provides some guidelines for arbitration of disputes, farmers feel the present legislation does not insure the right-to-farm. They hope for a revision which clearly defines "normal farming practices" and protects them from frivolous complaints. Regardless of the law, farmers should always operate in a responsible manner, respecting their neighbors and doing all they can to avoid friction.

Other Roles for Government

A considerable number of these services to the livestock and industry are currently under review. Most were offered free-of-charge but are now being privatized or changed to a user-pay basis.

Who is Involved?

Government of Canada

Agriculture & Agri-food
Consumer & Corporate Affairs
Foreign Affairs & International Trade
Health & Welfare

Government of Ontario

Agriculture, Food & Rural Affairs
Consumer & Commercial Relations
Education & Training
Economic Development & Trade
Environment & Energy
Natural Resources

Regional and Local Governments within Each Province

Global Intervention

On the global scene the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade Negotiations (GATT) attempts to improve access to all markets for the most efficient (least-cost) producers by removing any trade distortions arising through government subsidies to producers or on exported products. Their major challenge is the development of universally accepted and fair regulations for agricultural commodities. One potential problem for certain Canadian producers is the status of supply-management of our dairy and poultry industries. These commodity producers argue that the production quotas and import restrictions currently in force are justified under GATT Article XI. Some American farm groups with designs on our market challenge this, feeling that the somewhat vague terms contained in the agricultural section of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) should take precedence.

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