Email us at


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Love that Purple Potato! CETA and other "free trade" agreements threaten family farms in favour of factory farming by global mega-corporations.

Love that Purple Potato! 

by Jennifer Chesnut

One of the joys of the farmer's market is experiencing the ancestry of forgotten vegetables and fruits -- those purple potatoes, paddy pan squashes, and crimson carrots. Fields in Southwestern Ontario and across the planet are capable of exquisite magic. With a little sunshine and rain, they turn up a fascination of shapes, sizes and flavours. Because of the people’s movement to get back to eating within the nearest hundred miles, we are experiencing more local variety than the last twenty-five years of free trade food even though globalization is supposed to create more options. Why have most of us not met the purple potato until recently? The answer is simple. Farmers in our region, like everywhere else, have been experiencing numerous pressures to stay afloat since the late eighties in free trade economies that focus on distant export pathways not regional networks. During Canada’s first two decades of free trade from 1988 to 2010, approximately seventy-five thousand family farms were lost and farm debt tripled. One of the side effects of competing in free trade agriculture is that farmers are pressured to grow mono-crops. These are common crops that can travel the globe far distances and make the most bulk profit.
CETA, the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement, a huge deal with Europe, the United States and Mexico, is the most radical free trade policy Canada has ever considered. One of the dangers is CETA will encourage more long distance travel of food and in the process diminish our farmers’ options. Ontario farms will be competing with corporate farms from over twenty countries to serve you dinner. Though the deal is supposed to be signed with only the European Union, because of NAFTA, whatever sectors are opened to European corporations, will also be opened to American and Mexican big business. In CETA, specific unnecessary restrictions will punish our farmers. The National Farmers Union is alarmed that because of the way CETA’s intellectual property laws are written, farmers will likely no longer be able to save seed year to year but be forced to purchase them every year anew.
Looking down the road, citizens will be subject to the cultural impacts at the Saturday morning market by what federal Conservative Trade Minister Ed Fast calls the most ambitious deal ever negotiated. If the small and medium sized family farms survive the post-CETA era, they will be pressured to use the seeds that Monsanto and other agricorps sell. This means more genetic modification, less variety and less indigenous heirloom plants.
CETA isn’t an issue for bureaucrats. It’s about your family’s life. It’s going to impact the food you eat, the water you drink, the hydro you use and more. And don’t expect that when the municipal public Commons are opened for permanent foreign corporate bidding that costs are going to decrease or stable job opportunities will grow. If this did occur in the last twenty-five years of a Free Trade Canada, all the mamas and the papas would be singing its praises.
Besides our memories of life before free trade, an eyes open attitude and a good look at Statistics Canada can help us remember. For example, the first NAFTA decade of the nineties saw the highest rates of unemployment in Canada since the Great Depression. Necessary global trade is valuable. But free trade deals like the CETA don’t bring you soy sauce from Japan but they do diminish your local food options. Don’t take my word for it, look around and remember all the family farms that have disappeared since the seventies and eighties. Remember those rolling fields of corn that were not genetically modified. Remember how much closer you were to nature’s pastures.
CETA puts serious pressure on family farms to survive and ensures that corporate mega farms thrive. Join the wave of Canadian city councillors and citizens that are saying no to this vision. Toronto, Stratford and London are just three out of forty municipalities across the country that have asked their Premier for official exemption from CETA to protect their families and regional food networks. In this last month before its signing, citizens are contacting their city council, MPPs and MPs to ask that their municipality be opted out permanently. If we allow CETA to become trade law, we may just lose those purple potatoes, but we are also going to lose a whole lot more.
*Previously published at