Monday, July 22, 2024
Chris Judd

Who’s pullin’ the strings?

We’ve all watched puppeteers and ventriloquists and have been amazed at the difference in the way the puppets acted under different hands. It’s not just the words that seem like they come from the puppet’s mouth, but also the body language that the puppet conveys that we become enthralled in. The ideas portrayed into our minds depends on who’s pullin’ the strings.
Before I started college in 1966, both government experimental farms and universities had control of plant breeding. Although Marquis wheat first became popular in Canada in the early 1900s, Canadian yellow Durham wheat, developed later, became the most sought-after wheat in the world for it’s use in pasta. These early wheats were the result of years of breeding and development by our experimental farms.
By the mid-60s, our federal government had decided to withdraw most support for seed development and let private growers take over plant breeding. Soon after, pharmaceutical companies began to buy up seed companies. They realized that linking the seed to a matching herbicide, which only worked on plants that grew from seed that they sold, would be more profitable because they then controlled both. Both farmers and government-controlled test plots compared different varieties to see which was the best.
After another 20 years, seed-herbicide companies began to allot seed only for test plots that they controlled. Farmers soon noticed that whether it was company A, B, C or D that published a catalogue to advertise their seeds, it was always one of their varieties that won the test plots. Farmers realized that they had to look at another country’s plot results, where seed companies were not in control, if they wanted accurate results on trials.
Some countries never let seed-herbicide companies control plant breeding. The world’s most populated country, India, allowed the sale of a new hybrid cotton, then the farmer had to use that same company’s herbicide for weed control. Soon those cotton farmers were paying more for their crop inputs than the cotton sold at harvest. The cotton farmers were going broke, losing their farms and farmer suicide rates skyrocketed. Farmers began striking and, after several years, no more of this control by the seed-herbicide companies was allowed, starting with crops used for food production. Farmers began repurchasing their farms and farmer suicides dropped.
There is a drug used by many US dairy farms that lets milk cows produce milk for many extra months before milk production begins to fall. The normal gestation period for cows is about 305 days. A cow’s peak milk production, without rBST, is the first three months after she delivers her calf. After that, her milk production gradually declines. Dairy farmers usually quit milking a cow about a month before she delivers her next calf. This gives the cow a rest and lets her body prepare for her next lactation. If she is injected with rBST, she will maintain peak milk production for many months longer than normal.
The company that sells rBST lobbied the Canadian government for many months to allow it to market in Canada. Only for our old minister of agriculture, then a senator, and a scientist who noticed that testing on the extended use of rBST on dairy cattle was not finished. Very little testing on the people that drink the milk had ever been completed; it might have been approved for sale in Canada. The manufacturer offered to not sell the drug in Canada, if Canada stopped testing. The Canadian government also fired the scientist who blew the whistle on the company who had been lobbying for so long to get rBST approved, only to re-instate him later.
Since the early 50s, an extensive milk recording and sire selection system has been used to select the very best herd sires for use on dairy cows. Milk recording, milk testing and even health records of the cattle and ease of calving have been used to select the best sires for improving the herd. When rBST started to be used, some extremely high production was noticed at some US farms and even at some Canadian dairy farms close to the border. It was widely suspected that rBST was being used to bump up milk production records. That was when DNA testing of dairy animals began to get a bank of information about which DNA traits showed up on high producing cows. Once a good data bank was developed, a hair sample from the tail head of a calf could determine how good a milk cow it would become. A hair sample from a bull calf could determine if he carried the high production traits wanted by every farmer to produce more productive cattle. This eliminated the “skewed” records of cows who milked better on rBST.
Recently, you may have noticed that Canada (especially Quebec) is in need of many, many, doctors, nurses, professors and teachers. Statistics from Quebec also show that the French in Quebec earn considerably higher wages than the English. These two statements leave us scratching our heads. We sometimes forget about the “brain drain” we are experiencing in Quebec with these same people that we are short of; leaving for easy-to-find and often better-paying jobs in other provinces or countries. Then, there is the exodus of high paid executives and head offices to other provinces. Most of the head offices left because their companies also do business in other countries who communicate in English, which happens to be the business language of the world. Although most Quebec civil servants are of a French background, usually private businesses offer higher wages than government. It’s the bilingual candidates who usually get the higher paying private industry jobs and maybe leave for an advancement.
The Quebec English school boards just won a court case to have Bill 40 overturned, allowing them to continue to run their own schools, instead of the Quebec government. The English boards fought hard to maintain this control because statistics show that their schools have a lower percentage of dropouts, a higher percentage of graduations and a higher percent of students going on to further education than the schools under Quebec government guidance.
We can be proud of our county that has produced some of the world’s best corporate lawyers, heart surgeons, optometrists and bankers, yet we are witnessing citizens going out of province for dentistry, physiotherapy, eye doctors, ear doctors, MRIs, heart doctors and even to have their children delivered.
Quebec is already the most likely province in Canada to move away from. It’s time to stop and reverse the “brain drain.”

Chris Judd is a farmer in Clarendon on land that has been in his family for generations.


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