Evidence of meeting #42 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 organic.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

May 16th, 2012 / 4:30 p.m.

Conservative

LaVar Payne Medicine Hat, AB

Thank you, Chair, and thanks to the witnesses for coming.

Mike, we hear a lot about organic and natural, so I'm going to have a few questions around that. But first of all, could you describe what organic is and what natural is?

After that, I'd like you to talk about your marketplace, how you manage to get into the marketplace, what the pricing is on that, and then maybe some more after that.

4:30 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Beretta Organic Farms

Mike Beretta

I was expecting this type of a question. Organic means “certified organic”. The biggest difference between organic and natural has to do with the fact that, first, there is a third party that is hired to authenticate the claims to make it certified, and second, that the feed is certified organic as well. It would be the Cadillac of meat. You have third-party inspection, and all the feed given to the animals has been grown without pesticides, without any chemical fertilizers, following a strict crop rotation.

After that point, organic is the same as natural. Neither natural nor organic uses antibiotics in the animals. There are no growth hormones, steroids, or genetically modified organisms. So the difference between the organic and the natural stems primarily from the feed and from the fact that organic has a strict third-party control.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

LaVar Payne Medicine Hat, AB

Thanks, that's very helpful.

4:30 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Beretta Organic Farms

Mike Beretta

That's quite similar in most of the species. I'm talking beef, but chicken and pork would be the same.

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

LaVar Payne Medicine Hat, AB

How do you manage to separate the product? How do you manage to get it into the market? What's the pricing aspect? How does that work for you in competing with other beef?

4:30 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Beretta Organic Farms

Mike Beretta

My wife and I began as certified organic. We didn't make a transition. When we took up farming we jumped right into certified organic and didn't know any better, so we never went through a conversion piece.

What we ended up doing was adding natural afterwards, which is not the logical thing, but we found that with certified organic, because it's at the highest price point, there was a dedicated and loyal following but the growth would be much slower. So that was one challenge, the price point and not being able to grow it.

The second thing was that with certified organic there is a three-year transition for a farm to fall under that. So for three years the land and the animals and the livestock, everything, has to go through that period.

The challenge for us in growing our supply for organic was how do you convince a farmer to convert to organic and follow the organic methodology of farming without any kind of premium? The opportunity lay there to offer something as a premium for what would be considered the natural, which would fall right underneath the organic. We did that with one larger account that we had, thinking that the natural would bridge the gap as we grew our organic supply chain.

What happened instead was that we found there was a large group of consumers who wanted to take one step healthier in terms of their food choices but weren't prepared to go all the way to organic. That's where the natural has met that void.

One of the biggest challenges we've had, then, is that because there isn't a strict third-party control of natural—at least at a government level—we, as a brand and as a company, have said, we'll take ownership of that. We'll put in all the steps that we believe need to be in place, we'll advertise that to the customer, and we'll perform our own self-audits where needed to make sure that natural follows that strict protocol.

That's how we've been able to bridge that gap.

The danger of course is that natural becomes a grey area and can be abused and can create some lack of confidence in the marketplace. That's really where the challenge is with natural, which doesn't exist with organic.

So if you're looking at comparing it to an automobile, you'd have your Ferrari, you'd have your Toyota, and then you'd have your Lada. I don't know if that's politically correct, but that would be the way to distinguish between organic, natural, and what's considered commodity.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

LaVar Payne Medicine Hat, AB

I also noticed in your presentation you talked about U.S. supply flooding the Canadian market at cheaper prices. Is this strictly on the organic and natural that you were talking about?

4:35 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Beretta Organic Farms

Mike Beretta

It happens in all of them, but far less in the organic and the natural because the United States is at a deficit right now in terms of organic supply. So we've been competing with American buyers to lock up organic beef in some of the prairie provinces.

In that regard I'm talking more of the commodity side of things being flooded here. On the organic side it's more that we're competing for a finite supply.

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Vice-Chair (Mr. Malcolm Allen) Larry Miller

Thank you.

Madam Raynault.

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Francine Raynault Joliette, QC

Thank you.

My question is for Ms. Gibson.

On your website, you define a number of aspects of food security. One of the statements you make is that food dependence carries both economic and political dangers, and that any government that cannot feed its people is at the mercy of whoever can.

Do you think that, in a free trade context, a government may be at the mercy of an agri-food company operating in its country? Do you think that would be possible?

4:35 p.m.

Policy Analyst, BC Food Systems Network

Kathleen Gibson

I'm thinking about that one. I hadn't thought of it quite that way.

The idea that the country is at the mercy of whoever can provide the food is an extension of the idea that if you rely too much on very few players to provide the food the population needs, and something goes wrong with the very few players, the population's health is in jeopardy. That's the concept.

Or if you rely on other countries to provide your food, if you extend the core competency argument too far and give away your ability to produce food at all and rely on other jurisdictions to provide it, you are arguably putting the population at risk.

We're not saying that anyone is proposing that the nation go that far, but if you see the nation losing an ability to provide food and feed its own people, you start to ask those sorts of questions.

4:35 p.m.

NDP

Francine Raynault Joliette, QC

Could you tell me about a concrete way to achieve food independence and explain what makes that issue strategic for ensuring our food independence?

4:35 p.m.

Policy Analyst, BC Food Systems Network

Kathleen Gibson

I don't believe that you can assert total food sovereignty in a world of globalized trade, but it does seem to me that there should be opportunities protected, to some extent, for Canadian food and agrifood businesses that can stand beside export arrangements.

Supply management is a good case in point. It's very challenging, I understand, to have—or even try to maintain—a program like supply management in an increasingly globalized world. I know that supply management has been put on the table for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and I've read the arguments in favour of amending or getting rid of it, many of which I agree with.

In a case such as supply management, I don't know how much you can adapt it. I don't know how far you can go towards saying that the health and the sustainability of food for the population is important, but I think it would be remiss not to make some statements in that regard.

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Francine Raynault Joliette, QC

I really liked your document's introduction, which talks about your mission. I agree with you that, when people live better, they live longer and happier. They may be in better shape to look for work, and they live better in our society.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Vice-Chair (Mr. Malcolm Allen) Larry Miller

Let's try again.