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 food.

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

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Jean Rousseau Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. McInnes, in terms of the Canadian food strategy, this means that the chain must be turned upside down. It goes from consumer demand to producer supply.

Do consumers and the government want the same thing? Consumers want quality and healthy products. The demand for organic products has increased. Is the organic industry's production sufficient? Although that sector is still marginal, it is growing steadily. Does production meet consumer demand in terms of organics?

I will have another question after this.

4:25 p.m.

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

David McInnes

Merci. Thank you for the question.

What is happening is that governments across the country are trying to facilitate how supply chains can work. I'll comment on the federal government for a moment. What we are seeing, federally and provincially, are funds going into the University of Laval for the nutraceutical centre there—among some other facilities across the country—to understand, for example, how clinical trials can be held on various food compounds to understand how they can work. The interest in that is because they want to be able to help the food sector develop new products that are good for you, but they need the public research infrastructure to help do so. We can probably identify across the country where there are some interesting ideas that are occurring.

The question we would ask is, are we optimizing this investment? I think the supply chains need to ask that same question: how can we optimize how they work in order to pull that research out of those good facilities? That's where we think the dialogue needs to change everywhere.

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Jean Rousseau Compton—Stanstead, QC

In your analysis, you talked about tourism and about promoting food brands. We, the NDP, feel this could be a good way to support regional economy and help many family companies survive.

Could you tell us more about that?

4:25 p.m.

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

David McInnes

Thank you.

I use the tourism example to demonstrate the point that food touches so many different government departments, provincially, federally, and municipally, frankly. The interest in how we support local food is an increasing trend, and we're seeing across the country a real desire, for example, from the universities, from the University of Victoria, to McGill, to Dalhousie University, in sourcing locally. What's fascinating about this is they're getting together with nutritionists, local processors, local producers, municipal councillors, the universities, and food service providers, among many others, to try to figure out how we satisfy that consumer they're interested in: students. It's driving a lot of activity. Is it scalable on an international scale? No. But there is another set of requirements that we need to do to support exporters and even grow market share there.

Just speaking about local food, there's a lot of activity where the different players can come together to create new business opportunities for producers, farmers, and others.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Larry Miller

Thank you very much.

Mr. Lemieux.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I'm very pleased that this committee is studying the value chain. I think there are two main groups: the farmers at the one end, who are producing the raw materials that feed into the chain, and the consumers at the far end. On what lies in between, although there is commonality, there are also differences, depending on what the consumer is purchasing and where. Just to give an example, the consumer is purchasing processed food in a grocery store or is going to a restaurant.

The chains can have different variations, but I think there are some commonalities. There's the fact that food moves from the producer to a processor, to a distributor, to a wholesaler, to retailers, to the consumers. I think that chain is fairly well understood, but I would like to understand better the different aspects associated with each step.

I'm interested in seeing how we can maximize revenue for the farmer who is producing the produce that enters into the chain, and how we can ensure good value for money for the consumer at the far end, because pricing is added at every point that the product is handled, processed, moved along, stored, and distributed. I think we want to minimize waste as well. Any time there's waste there's a cost hit to somebody. That's where I see our study being very interesting and important.

The report was a joint affair between the George Morris Centre, Mr. Seguin, and CAFPI, and it characterizes the determinants of successful value chains. In your first recommendation—you mentioned five different recommendations—you say that value chains really require the free-will participation of businesses that are involved in the value chain. In other words, it can't really be legislated. To get proper participation there has to be a voluntary aspect by the businesses themselves that are involved in the chain.

The second thing is that the value chains change. Science and innovation are going on. Consumer demands are changing. The chain must be very innovative, and companies must be very adaptable in order to survive, thrive, and prosper in this environment.

I'm wondering if you can comment on those two recommendations, and particularly on the government's role. I'm not convinced it's heavy legislation or regulation, but I think we do have value to add.

Mr. Seguin and Mr. McInnes, what do you see the role of government being, given these first two recommendations in your report?

4:30 p.m.

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

David McInnes

I wonder if I can defer to Bob to start, given that the paper was authored by the George Morris Centre.

4:30 p.m.

Excutive Director, George Morris Centre

Robert Seguin

Thank you, David.

Thank you for the question, Mr. Lemieux.

Our view is that it's an enterprise prospect, with willing sellers and willing buyers, not coerced or compelled by legislation or regulation but trying to find mutual benefit. There is mutual benefit, but sometimes it's not very easy to find. Sometimes even the regulatory system doesn't encourage it.

Past attitudes and battles in the marketplace have not encouraged people to come together. But if they can they will find they can drive value to the consumer, possibly reduce their costs and waste, find better ways of dealing with it, and be adaptable over time.

This isn't something that's replicated just through regulation or one management study. You have to keep working at it. It varies by commodity. The commodity outlook or the demand outlook for a dairy producer in Quebec and Ontario is very different from that of a potato producer in P.E.I. or New Brunswick. It's different again for a beef producer in Alberta or Saskatchewan. How do you find the right processing balance?

You also deal with a lot of history here. Past differences and views, past legislation, and past attitudes have not always encouraged people to come together. So there has to be a willing capacity. Governments can encourage that, enable that, help management capacities, and help the understanding of what's really happening in the marketplace. But people shouldn't be compelled or coerced into making this happen.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. McInnes, would you like to add anything to that?

4:35 p.m.

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

David McInnes

Yes, thank you.

Thank you, Bob.

I think it should be organic; that is, it should naturally evolve where there are business opportunities to be had. Government absolutely plays a key role. They are regulators, they are funders, and they are trade promoters, so in their own right they can have an impact on the marketplace as a whole or on a specific value chain or supply chain.

Where we see an example of that—and I believe this is through the Ontario government—is that they are helping producers, retailers, chefs, and restaurants find each other in the marketplace. They've set up a website called Ontariofresh.ca. Through that they are trying to create new links, essentially new supply chains between growers, producers, and the markets in the populated areas around the green belt. So government can help in that regard, but government sometimes doesn't need to be part of this transaction.

We're familiar with, and have invited to one of our symposia, an entrepreneurial couple who have sourced product from 29 farmers and producers—beef producers and horticultural producers—in the Ontario region to feed healthy meals to thousands of school kids every day in the GTA, the greater Toronto area. They've actually shortened the supply chain, because they have developed a relationship together. They've developed trust. They see value, and now they're moving into the processed foods area, because they're trying to use the full carcass, for example, or they're trying to have a year-round supply of products, so they're getting into sauces and other things. I'm not sure if government was part of their story, but they've found a common desire to create a quality product that improves the quality of meals delivered to thousands of kids every day. We should celebrate that.

The question to them would be, what stands in their way of succeeding? I'm sure they would have a list. But I think we should embrace the fact that there's diversity out there and there are going to be large and small chains.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Larry Miller

Thank you very much.

Mr. Allen, you have five minutes.

March 28th, 2012 / 4:35 p.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen Welland, ON

Thank you, Chair.

Thank you, folks, for coming.

It's interesting that you talked about feeding school kids. The Scottish national food plan actually talks about feeding kids until grade 6, regardless of income, just simply as a food strategy, period.

Also, I noted that there is a hospital in the GTA—and you wouldn't wish to be in a hospital, but if you've been a patient, you remember how bad the food can be—that is now actually preparing what one would call home-cooked meals. Even though they're actually more expensive to generate at the beginning, what you find is that you don't dump 70% in the garbage at the end, which is what happens with most patient food, because folks really don't like it, and that's understandable. For those of us who have been in a hospital lately, it isn't much fun. It isn't very good, actually. So it's interesting that you talked about that chain and about how institutions may play parts in chains to some degree. It would be interesting to see how that works itself through, because it's only one hospital at the moment in Toronto. We'll see what happens.

David, you talked about something—and Robert did as well—in your report, and that was the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre, which I know infinitely well because I live down there. I hate to admit that I used to take peaches from them when I was kid, but I did. They were pretty good peaches. I don't think they grow those ones that we took any more. I think those were the ones they didn't like.

In any case, are we seeing any models like that across the country? It's somewhat innovative, having gone from a place that almost died, actually—about eight years ago it was almost closed—to what it is today. I wonder if either one of you wanted to comment on that.

Then the second piece was to talk a little bit about what you call sustainability farm plans. Could you both touch on that? And I'll let you use up the rest of your time talking about those two pieces.

Whoever wants to start, please feel free to.

4:40 p.m.

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

David McInnes

Bob, do you want to?

4:40 p.m.

Excutive Director, George Morris Centre

4:40 p.m.

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

David McInnes

I don't want to put you on the spot.

Mr. Chairman, maybe you better preside on who....