Evidence of meeting #32 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 value.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Robert Seguin  Excutive Director, George Morris Centre
  • David McInnes  President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute
  • Michael Burt  Director, Industrial Economic Trends, Conference Board of Canada

4 p.m.

NDP

Francine Raynault Joliette, QC

I am from Quebec, and I represent Joliette. I have to say that grocery stores had to adapt to people from the outside who come to work on our farmland. Today, our stores carry certain types of food that were not on their shelves five years ago. Of course, I try those products, just as others probably try our maple syrup.

My question is for Mr. Seguin. In your presentation, you talked about the limited capacity to adapt, the regulatory context for adaptation and the conflicting historical goals. Could you elaborate on that, please?

4 p.m.

Excutive Director, George Morris Centre

Robert Seguin

Thank you for the question.

For example, if we have historically grown certain types of vegetables, with a regulated marketing system to help protect the producers in their negotiations with processors, retailers, then bringing in new crops, which they're not used to producing, and trying to think of how that's going to be managed...what are the production practices? What are the food safety practices? Are we sure those consumers will be buying it, or will they just test it out and then go back to their home products that are being imported?

David mentioned Vineland Research and Innovation Centre. It's an excellent example of trying to bring the science community, the producer, the processor, and retailers together to try to find ways of profitably producing it, marketing it, and being successful in the marketplace. But it's not always easy. It's also the case that only so many producers, so many processors, are willing to take on those risks early until their product has proven itself.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Larry Miller

Thank you very much.

Mr. Zimmer, for five minutes.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Prince George—Peace River, BC

Thanks for coming to our committee today.

I just had an overarching question about the food supply chain in terms of our responsibility as government. We have to look at it from a top-down—and “top-down” is maybe the wrong word—or maybe more of a bird's-eye view of this. I think the food supply chain works pretty well right now.

There are some smaller issues, but I guess we need to see it from a long-term perspective. From your perspective, with production processing, distribution, with all those things in mind within the food chain, what are some concerns, possibly, that you can see in the future, where if we don't address them, they could be larger issues for us?

I'll start with Mr. Seguin and then go to the rest of the panel.

4:05 p.m.

Excutive Director, George Morris Centre

Robert Seguin

Thank you for the question, Mr. Zimmer.

I think I'll posit two different questions, challenges, to the government, both the federal government and the provinces. One is a challenge of scale. To satisfy the market demands of a large retailer, a large food service—Tim Hortons, Boston Pizza, The Keg—on a cross-Canada basis, such that they have the quality needed, needs a certain amount of scale at the production end and at the processing end to manage that and meet the needs. It requires that the consumers at that retailer or food service are satisfied continually and that the quality is assured, and, if necessary, even traced back with confidence to meet the government's needs. You need that scale, that investment, and investment in technology and management. Are we sure we're doing enough to help that?

At the same time, you don't want to do it in a way that disturbs the innovation in the system, having regional entrepreneurs, local entrepreneurs, trying something in a local market, or a very niche market that they can sell on a national basis. Is the regulatory system able to adapt to handle something that was not there historically? I use the example of certain new vegetables. If the production practices are different enough, do we have the regulatory systems that are adaptive enough, and do we have the management systems that are adaptive enough?

So it's a case of local innovation, regional innovation, and the ability to have scale when you're dealing with a national, even a global, marketplace.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Prince George—Peace River, BC

David.

4:05 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute

David McInnes

Thank you very much for the question.

I think government is trying to do quite a bit to try to facilitate change, innovation, and competitiveness. I think, though, there's always room to ask the question, are we optimizing? For example, there was an effort made to enhance or elevate the omega-3 in milk, called DHA milk. I drove on the highway the other day and actually saw a big billboard advertising that. This was an initiative by the University of Guelph, the dairy industry, the Dairy Farmers of Canada, and Neilson Dairy, to actually enhance the micro-nutrient omega-3 in milk. It received a premium for that product in the marketplace of some 8%. So innovation is driven to seek out differentiation and profitability.

However, one of the challenges in creating this novel food product is that inevitably regulatory issues can stand in the way of speeding or accelerating that approval. We need to ensure that where we foster innovation on the one hand, the regulatory speed and approval is just as tightly interwoven, so that we can attract investment here in Canada and create an innovation hub around food. That's what we're trying to achieve by linking the players and linking policy across systems, innovation in this sense and regulation on the other.

4:05 p.m.

Director, Industrial Economic Trends, Conference Board of Canada

Michael Burt

I would point out two things. One is on the international scale. Market access is a very important issue. Food is probably, more than any other industry, subject to various forms of barriers that are in place internationally. Just recently, and I'm sure you're all aware, South Korea finally allowed access to Canadian beef. How many years after BSE? Pressing forward on that market access issue in international markets is key to us being successful in international markets.

Domestically, I would agree with David in the sense that probably one of the biggest issues around the development of new and innovative products is ensuring that the regulatory system is able to quickly, whether it's feed for animals or additives for food...and a great example would be putting lentils into pasta. By moving away from the traditional food framework that we think of, food products, we should not be preventing companies from being innovative and making these experiments, making these improvements to our food, because the regulatory system is hindering them from doing so.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Prince George—Peace River, BC

That's good.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Larry Miller

Thank you very much.

Mr. Valeriote, five minutes.

March 28th, 2012 / 4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Guelph, ON

Thanks to all of you for appearing today.

David, I'm going to start with you. Our party quite agrees with your proposition of a compelling food plan: a food strategy from gate to plate. We have been proposing it for years. It hasn't been forthcoming.

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture tried to come up with one. There are all sorts of different groups.... I see it as the responsibility of the federal government to bring all of the stakeholders together and prepare such a plan, as they did in England, in Scotland, and, as you know, in New Zealand, but we have yet to have one here.

I first want you to comment on the need for that, and who should be the group for or the leader of this initiative. That's number one.

Number two, you made an interesting comment. You said that once the plan is prepared, we needn't necessarily have regulations or rules attached to it, and that it has to be a vision. I disagree with you somewhat, largely because there's nothing that compels the vision to come to fruition, if you know what I'm saying.

For instance, there has been a lot of talk about the unnecessary amount of salt in our diet and the need to reduce salt in a lot of the processed products out there. The government had an opportunity to do that and didn't. I spoke to some in government and they said, “Well, we want people to have their choices.” It's an ideological thing: let them have their choices, right?

On the other hand, with respect to the railways, that would fall in your chart under trade and industry, I suppose, under increasing exports and improving competitiveness. For two years, farmers have been coming here saying they are getting ripped off by the railways. Nothing is happening. If you don't complement the plan with regulations and rules, nothing happens. I'd like you to comment on that latter part of my comment as well.

4:10 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute

David McInnes

Thank you very much for the questions.

I'll start with the latter. We acknowledge that targets can be difficult things to set and to enforce. We're all supposed to be eating five to ten fruits and vegetables a day. Sometimes that doesn't happen, so targets can be inspirational as opposed to mandated.

On the other hand, targets can be highly effective. The Canola Council of Canada, for its sector, set a target of increasing canola production by 65% by 2015. They'll hit it. What they've done with that target is they've galvanized their supply chain—crushers, processors, growers, and others—in order to create a catalyst for productivity and profitability.

Should government be setting targets? That's perhaps part of your question. I think that's a discussion we need to have. I think we need leadership on the government side to try to reveal where it would like to go.... On the other hand, this is not to absolve the supply chains of responsibility. The supply chains need to galvanize amongst themselves to decide what they're going to do together. So there's a shared leadership here.

Also, frankly, researchers have a role. They need to integrate into the supply chains even more than they have. This is not a top-down approach that is necessarily from government. It is a collective approach as to how everyone can figure out how we can best serve the consumer, how we can improve their health, and how we can create jobs and profitability in the areas you're responsible for. I think that's the way we should do it.

I think you started with a question about food strategies, if I may take that on.

I'm originally from Nova Scotia. A rising tide lifts all boats, and the more that people are talking about strategies, plans, and our future—and we actually talk about a destination, not necessarily a vision—I think that's good, because I think the calibre of the discussion is actually starting to change.

The Conference Board had an event not too long ago that was called a food summit. What was fascinating was the constant reference to the need to nurture food systems. We're starting to talk about food systems rather than just supplier value chains. I think the language is starting to change, which is reflecting an understanding of the complexity of what's out there.

I think ultimately it's probably important that we all try to get together and come up with some common principles. We can't micromanage every single supply chain. That would be impossible. But common principles with metrics and objectives to drive behaviour? That's what we're shooting for.

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Guelph, ON

Do I have time for a quick question for Mr. Seguin?

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Larry Miller

Very quick.

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Guelph, ON

Bob, how is the weather in Guelph?