May 04, 2016

My Beef with PR Gimmicks

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Earls Restaurants recently announced that they would no longer be sourcing beef for its locations from Canadian producers. After thousands of Canadians stood up and spoke out for Canadian ranchers and our great beef sector, Earls backed down and reversed that decision.

If there is one take away lesson from the recent brouhaha, it’s that Saskatchewan and Canadian cattle continue to be a world leader in quality and set the standard sustainably and ethically for how they are raised.

Saskatchewan and Canadian cattle are raised in the most humane way possible. Our ranchers follow a Code of Practice that prescribes how animals are to be cared for throughout their life. This code outlines when animals should receive antibiotics and pain medication, as well as requirements around transportation, access and quality of feed and water, shelter, handling and more.

But even if a Code of Practice wasn’t in place, our ranchers would do the right thing. They are out in -40 C putting out extra feed and bedding. They will stay with a cow all night while she is calving. They will take a new born calf into their own home to ensure its health on a cold night. Our ranchers treat their cattle with the utmost care and respect. They wouldn't have it any other way.  I know this, because I am one.

When it comes to issues at the farm gate, I am proud to be a member of a government that gets it.  Gimmicky PR campaigns that flare up from time to time can have a real impact on real people’s lives.  These hurt not only the producers who help keep Saskatchewan’s economy strong and diverse, but it can also hurt consumers by confusing an issue and reducing confidence in our agricultural sector.

The other danger of gimmicky PR campaigns is they can give rise to bad policy-making.  We see this playing itself out as the NDP recently embraced the Leap Manifesto – a policy document written in Toronto that calls for natural resources to be left in the ground, and direct attacks on our agricultural producers use of modern agriculture technology, as well as the global trade our province benefits so greatly from.

This is why I was so dismayed to learn that NDP MLA and Ag Critic Cathy Sproule voted in favour of the Leap Manifesto at the most recent NDP convention in Edmonton.  We’ve long known that the NDP don’t get agricultural issues in our province, but to see them so openly endorse policies that would be so harmful to our farmers and ranchers was truly surprising.

Beef is big business in Saskatchewan.  In 2014, livestock farm cash receipts reached $2.7 billion, $1.9 billion of which came from the cattle sector. Saskatchewan's strong agricultural sector helps ensure our economy remains resilient during these turbulent times.  Saskatchewan is home to 1/3 of Canada’s cattle herd, and we are a leading exporter across Canada and around the world.

The Leap Manifesto and other public misinformation campaigns would threaten this sector, the jobs it creates, the families it supports and the investment it allows our government to make in hospitals, highways and schools.

Without a doubt, the best beef comes from the best cattle producers, right here in Canada.

I take deep pride in my work as a farmer and rancher, and I’m also proud to sit at a Caucus table that’s truly representative of our great province; farmers and ranchers, educators and entrepreneurs, and business owners from the city and the country focused on keeping Saskatchewan strong.

We won’t allow the latest fad to blow us off course, and we won’t endorse reckless policy documents like the NDP’s Leap Manifesto.

Lyle Stewart is the MLA for Lumsden-Morse, Minister for Agriculture, and a rancher and farmer near Pense

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