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

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Francine Raynault Joliette, QC

Where would this funding come from?

4:05 p.m.

Senior Policy Advisor, Food Secure Canada

Anna Paskal

It could come from several sectors, since it's an investment in our future. So the funding could come from the government or the private sector.

We can evaluate what the social benefits and the benefits related to our health system would be. How much could we save by having more fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables?

Obesity and heart conditions cost our country billions and billions of dollars. We are almost suggesting a shift toward local and sustainable agriculture that will have an enormous impact on health, economy and the environment in our country.

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Francine Raynault Joliette, QC

I don't want to name countries, but we know that the food we export is thoroughly checked, while only 2% of the food we receive is. So we don't really know what we're eating. Perhaps those countries are using insecticides and other products that we haven't been allowed to use here for several years. But we're made to eat it anyway.

4:05 p.m.

Senior Policy Advisor, Food Secure Canada

Anna Paskal

Yes, and we know what the consumers want. Interest in what we eat has grown significantly. We want to eat healthy, fresh food from producers we know close to home. It's good for everyone. That's why I'm encouraging you to consider a concrete aspect of this policy that supports local, sustainable agriculture. There's a lot we can do.

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Francine Raynault Joliette, QC

Do I have any time left, Mr. Chair?

Thank you.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Larry Miller

We'll now move to Mr. Lemieux for five minutes.

February 29th, 2012 / 4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Thanks very much, Chair.

Thank you to our witnesses for being here today.

I would like to clarify one thing on the food processing side.

Mr. Johnston, you feel there is very little agricultural support for food processors. I want to at least make my colleagues aware that under AgriFlexibility, we announced $50 million for the agrifood processing sector. It's available up to 2014. To date $20 million of that $50 million has been allocated through 35 agreements. If we go with the numbers that were presented with the proposals, it should be creating over 550 jobs.

I know there have been other investments too. For example, there is Food Beverage Canada, Alberta's technology institute—I think you mentioned that—and other initiatives like that to help the food processing sector.

It is an important sector. I think it's a sector that's in high demand. As life becomes busier, Canadians have a desire for processed foods. When our food processors are presenting their products, I know they're trying to do it in a way that will be of true benefit to Canadians, a way that is nutritious and well presented, so that they become a natural choice by Canadians.

I want to ask a few things. First, when I think of processed foods, there is a wide scale. At the lower end, I would say there is taking fresh garlic, mincing it up, and putting it in a vacuum-packed jar. That's food that's been processed to some extent. Then I'm thinking of the other end perhaps, where you can have a whole meal presented to a consumer.

When you're thinking of the food processing sector in general, I'm sure you would span that spectrum as well, but where is the preponderance, I suppose, of the food processing industry?

As well, where is the growth within the sector? What are Canadians looking for?

I know that when I am in grocery stores, I see products changing. I see new products that weren't there before and I see old products that are being presented in a different way, with newer packaging and different attributes. I'm assuming that's what Canadians are wanting and willing to choose.

I wonder if you could share your thoughts with the committee about where the growth is within the sector, and how the sector is meeting that.

4:05 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Alberta Food Processors Association

Ted Johnston

To begin with the first part—about what we encompass—in the case of my particular provincial association, our membership goes from the people who wash the dirt off a carrot and put it in a bag right through to that full meal preparation you were talking about, whether it's fresh-packed or otherwise.

The biggest areas of processing in this country are killing cows and pigs and cutting them up and putting them in a box. That is the biggest sector. Southern Alberta is a very important part of what happens in that area.

As to where the growth is going to come from in the Canadian industry, you have to put it into the perspective of being in a world market situation. In all honesty, we're a speck on the butt. We have 37 million people here; we're a very small country. We keep talking about becoming dominant, but what we really have to do in this country is become the best guerrillas out there and pick the niches.

I have a very good example. In Alberta we have a company that has become the largest gluten-free baker in North America. It does a great deal of business off the Internet and ships by courier. It's the biggest user of courier services in western Canada. It ships into the United States every day and is now branching into Europe on a similar type of basis, using courier services.

The world is changing in terms of what we can do. This is a very specific niche where we can be an expert and use Canadian agricultural outputs, although there are still some difficulties with it. He cannot get some product in Alberta that he needs; it has to come from Manitoba. We have some barriers to those kinds of things as well.

In sum, growth will be in niches. We react to what our customers want, particularly on the retail side. They are the ones who are talking to the consumer—not our people, and not the farmers. The retailers tell us what it is and where the next generation is. Sometimes they create it, as Loblaws has done with their “Insider's Report”; sometimes it comes from the demand that comes through various organizations.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Do you know if your clients use, for example, funding that might be available through Western Economic Diversification? These are agencies that are meant to promote economic growth, and all these food processors are businesses. They need new equipment, they need to hire new employees, they need to grow and expand into other markets. There is economic development funding available that's not necessarily agriculturally base, and I'm wondering if your clients take advantage of that.

4:10 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Alberta Food Processors Association

Ted Johnston

WD is not one that the companies themselves would particularly go after. As an association we will work with WD in some of the programs, usually in partnership with the provincial government. We had one that developed a program to try to expand on private label development in western Canada, particularly in Alberta, to ship to the United States. It was working absolutely wonderfully when we had an 85¢ dollar, but it went right out the window as soon as we hit dollar parity. The company went bankrupt and went out of business.

However, we are very fortunate in Alberta, and I hold Alberta up as the example of what could be done. I think this needs to be done on a national level, and that's why the federal government needs to get involved. We have AFSC, the Agriculture Financial Services Corporation, which was set up primarily to administer the safety net programs for the province of Alberta but has grown beyond that. They now provide basic financing programs that support the modernization and the automation of this industry in the province of Alberta.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

As do tax cuts, right? As an example, there are general business tax cuts that agriprocessors benefit from when they're buying new capital equipment.

4:10 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Alberta Food Processors Association

Ted Johnston

Coming back to the context of small and medium-sized businesses, the largest number of companies in this country are the small and the medium-sized ones. The tax cuts are not the biggest issue to them. The biggest issue is being able to get dollars up front to do the thing in the first place so that they can make the profit where the tax cut comes into play. They need the up-front dollars.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

I guess that's where I see AgriFlexibility or WD. There are economic development programs they can apply to for funding to help them with that kind of expansion.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Larry Miller

Pierre, you're—

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Thank you, Chair.