Evidence of meeting #27 for Agriculture and Agri-Food in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was food.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Ted Johnston  President and Chief Executive Officer, Alberta Food Processors Association
  • Rick Culbert  President, Food Safety Division, Bioniche Life Sciences Inc.
  • Anna Paskal  Senior Policy Advisor, Food Secure Canada

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Jean Rousseau Compton—Stanstead, QC

I was talking about the growing demand for quality products and organic products that contradicts the prices. People favour price over the quality of the food. What can we do in Canada to finally meet this need that people have?

4:30 p.m.

President, Food Safety Division, Bioniche Life Sciences Inc.

Rick Culbert

I understand. Thank you.

I think the answer lies in respecting that the market will be somewhat segregated. The market demand for organic food is very real, but it's also very much a minority. It also has likely a higher cost of production than non-organically produced food, but if there's a sector that wants it, we should offer it to them, obviously.

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Jean Rousseau Compton—Stanstead, QC

I agree.

4:30 p.m.

President, Food Safety Division, Bioniche Life Sciences Inc.

Rick Culbert

I think the other issue that's more relevant and more important to this on-farm food safety issue is on-farm food safety when you are selling your food to your neighbour. That's the last place you want to contaminate a food source. Even with the terrible situation in Walkerton, Ontario, years ago, their chief medical officer of health told me that they had a second outbreak not long after, but it was in strawberries served at a church supper. The strawberry patch was right beside the cattle pasture, and it accidentally became contaminated. It was local, fresh, all that stuff.

There again, if we're going to put this emphasis on local, I see all the more reason to have policies that support on-farm food safety.

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Jean Rousseau Compton—Stanstead, QC

Thank you.

Go ahead, Mr. Johnston.

4:30 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Alberta Food Processors Association

Ted Johnston

I think you've hit the nail right on the head. There is a cost attached, and the retail environment in Canada does not believe that the Canadian consumer will absorb that type of cost. Prices have gone up about 6% over the last year, and they're getting some push-back on that.

It becomes one of the difficulties. Trying to get costs out of the process is one of the biggest issues, and that's where we say that we have to get some of those costs out of the system.

We don't always have a whole lot of impact on input costs. I'm not just talking about agricultural input costs: a lot of inputs—water, electricity, and all the rest of those issues—come into play. Unless we can find ways to get those costs out, we will continue to experience upward pressure, and the Canadian consumer, ultimately, will end up paying more.

If we also continue to not be competitive on the other side of it, we'll create more poor people. There will be even more jobs lost out of this country. This is now our largest manufacturing sector, but we're losing it.

4:30 p.m.

Senior Policy Advisor, Food Secure Canada

Anna Paskal

May I add something?

May I add one little bit?

There is also the issue of the liability of the producers. You spoke about organic products. I'm not talking specifically about organics, even though that is one aspect of sustainable agriculture.

On the ground, there needs to be a barrier between chemical farmers and organic farmers. that zone is on the organic farmer's land. That is exactly the situation of organic farmers: they have to protect themselves from the chemical products, they have to pay for certification. So all of these costs are included in the process. If the government could see that the environmental benefits can really compensate for the costs of organic farming and help these producers, it would change the costs for organic farmers and, as a result, the prices.

The government must really lift this burden off the organic farmers. Then, clearly, the prices will drop. And we could list the economic benefits. I just wanted to add that.

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Jean Rousseau Compton—Stanstead, QC

Thank you, Ms. Paskal.

Thanks, Mr. Chair.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Larry Miller

You're very welcome.

Go ahead, Mr. Lobb.

February 29th, 2012 / 4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Ben Lobb Huron—Bruce, ON

Mr. Johnston, in your presentation to talked about a CFIA ombudsman, didn't you?

4:35 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Alberta Food Processors Association

Ted Johnston

Yes. It's something we've requested in the action plan. There are a number of areas in CFIA where there has been no appeal. One is the level playing field relative to imports and domestics. Some action has taken place there, but we have example after example of overstepping CFIA inspectors. They can walk into your plant on a Thursday afternoon and say, “No, that's it. You're done,” and there is no recourse. There is no place to go, unless you're prepared to go through a long and convoluted process.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Ben Lobb Huron—Bruce, ON

Who would he report to?

4:35 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Alberta Food Processors Association

Ted Johnston

He would report to someone probably in the regional office, who would report to the western Canada director, who would then report to one of the vice-presidents here in Ottawa. It's quite a long process, depending on how far down the ladder that individual was.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Ben Lobb Huron—Bruce, ON

In Ontario, where I'm from, there are provincial inspectors and there are federal inspectors. In the year 2012, does it make any sense to have two layers of inspectors? Do you think there are synergies to be found by combining those efforts?

4:35 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Alberta Food Processors Association

Ted Johnston

Well, you forgot one. There are three layers. How about local health? Any one of them can walk into your plant. Even if you're a federally inspected plant, some local health inspector who may have been out of school for three weeks could walk in and shut you down.