Thank you very much for inviting us to present to you this morning. As you'll recall, we at the Canadian Meat Council have been here before. We represent the largest of Canada's agrifood sectors, with gross sales over $20.3 billion. In fact, last year Canada exported $1.24 billion worth of beef and $2.39 billion worth of pork to over 60 countries.
I presented to you last in November, when I was expressing our concern about the challenges to the industry, and those concerns remain. We're still faced with a very strong Canadian dollar, labour shortages, rising fuel prices, and with an increase in the amount of pork and beef that's being sold here in Canada, directly at retail, from the United States.
As well, according to Agriculture Canada, the pork imports from the United States so far, year to date, are up 16%, to 22.5 thousand metric tonnes. Last year, at the end of the year, imports from the United States were up 8.4%, at 94,000 metric tonnes.
Imposing or looking at any new regulations makes us nervous. We saw that, because last year we were faced with the new specified risk material regulations for the beef sector. On April 1, Gencor announced that they were closing their doors and declaring bankruptcy protection.
Looking at this particular regulation makes us want to make sure that we're looking at this properly. It's our understanding that you're looking at the recommendation you made of implementing a minimum 51% domestic agrifood content rule that would provide better protection for the integrity of “Product of Canada” designation.
Let me begin by pointing out that Canada's meat industry is the most heavily regulated of all Canada's food sectors. We have a very good record of compliance with these rules. And not only do we comply with domestic rules, but many of our members comply with export rules, various rules in different countries, that differ from our own.
We also know a lot about labels. I've got several meat samples here I'm going to pass around, and hopefully I'll have time before my ten minutes run out.
In Canada, all labels intended for immediate containers of prepared edible meat products are required to be pre-approved by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency before the product is sold in the market. Currently the label registrations are required for all pre-packaged meat products and processed vegetables and fruits only. Other food products, such as dairy, honey, bakery, egg, fish, etc., here in Canada do not require pre-registration. They're still subject to relevant labelling regulations, but they don't have to wait for label approval as the meat industry does before we can market our product. This has serious implications for the competitiveness of our sector compared with other Canadian food industries that are not constrained by these regulations.
That approval costs us money. Each and every food label.... For instance, for Piller's sausages and delicatessens--and they have a lot of product--each and every new label costs them $100 for registration and $45 if they want to make a minor change to something on this label. It's $45 for a minor change. So take all of the meat companies in Canada, multiply it by all the labels that we produce, and that's a problem.
We understand, as well, that competitors in the United States wait no longer than seven days and that they have a generic system of approvals for labels that allows them to make minor changes without government approval. Our label approval process has been frustrating our members for years.
Introducing new legislation or regulations on “Product of Canada” makes us wonder how it will affect our businesses. Now all products that are pre-packaged for sale by Canadian meat processors must carry the meat inspection legend. When I started in this job four years ago, I didn't really quite know what it meant either, but what it means is that it is inspected by the Government of Canada. That's what it means. It's got this crown on it, and the establishment has to put their number either immediately on the logo or somewhere on the package.
I'll pass this one around, and you can see that here's Piller's pepperoni, an excellent product. It's got the logo here. They've actually put their establishment number up here in the corner, establishment 522, but they've got all the information, totally bilingual, and it shows the best before date. We'll pass that around. We'll open it at the end of the session and you can have some of that.
Of course, the meat inspection legend is the national trademark, and unauthorized use of that national trademark is subject to prosecution under section 21 of the Meat Inspection Act. Only meat processed in a Canadian federally inspected facility may use the trademark, but we are not required to use “Product of Canada”.
You'll see on the various products that we pass around.... And I'd better start passing these around, or you'll be looking at them while Robin or someone else speaks. That's an example of a fully cooked chicken product. In all of these products you'll find the crown, but you will not find the declaration “Product of Canada”. It's not required.
Actually, our association raised the issue of “Product of Canada” late last year with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency because we saw an increasingly large number of large cuts of meat, especially at the warehouse club stores, that in the past have been cut at retail, appearing for direct sale with several labelling violations, such as lack of bilingual labelling, lack of a meat inspection legend, no code dates, no “packaged on” dates, and especially non-compliant U.S. meat with no “product of” information.
We got a response from them in writing on February 11, 2008, and they said to us:
Section 123 of the Meat Inspection Regulations requires the words “Product of” followed by the name of the country of origin on the labels of all pre-packaged, imported meat products. In addition, Section 31 (2) of the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Regulations requires that pre-packaged products that are wholly manufactured or produced outside of Canada be labelled with the identity and principal place of business in Canada for which the pre-packaged product was manufactured or produced for resale. The identity and principal place of business shall be preceded by the words “imported by” or “imported for”, as the case may be, unless the geographic origin of the pre-packaged product is stated on the label. Meat products that are cut or otherwise processed and re-packed at the retail level are not required to provide an indication of the geographic origin of the product or that they are imported.
I'm just going to reach for another product. Here is a product I picked up yesterday at Costco here in Ottawa. It's a Hormel product. It's clearly identified “Product of the United States”. This particular package is actually fully compliant.
But this one, interestingly enough, unlike Canada.... And in my mind--this is my personal opinion--the United States label is clearer. Here they say, “U.S. inspected and passed by Department of Agriculture”. That's what their stamp says. Our says “Canada” with a crown and a number, and theirs says “U.S. inspected and passed by Department of Agriculture”. I'll pass this around. It's fully cooked, so we can have some of that too.
So if a retailer sells an intact muscle cut, such as a pork loin, from the United States in a vacuum-packed plastic bag and simply attaches a price on it, he's in violation of the current meat inspection regulations if they don't indicate “Product of the United States” on it. We brought this to the agency's attention because we feel this is a current regulation and it should be enforced. However, if the store takes that loin out of the plastic packaging and they cut it up into ten pieces and put it out for retail, they do not have to put “Product of the United States” on it.
We have to be careful, though. There is a growing “case-ready” market here in Canada where retailers, for food safety and efficiency reasons, no longer have an in-house butcher who cuts up the meat. Instead, the retailer is supplied daily by a specialized meat cutter who wraps, cuts, weighs, and labels the meat for the retailer.
This actually often results in a superior product with longer shelf life. One of our members, for instance, who specializes in this is a veal processor who has production farms and meat processing facilities on both sides of the border. He sometimes needs to bring in meat from just across the border from his own farms and processing facilities just to fill his product orders here in Canada because he can't get enough veal here. How will his business be affected by the proposed rules?
As well--and I'll be wrapping up shortly--how does a company like Piller's,which has been in business for a great many years as a family-owned business with really high-quality product.... They have been sourcing meat from Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and Uruguay. How will these regulations affect their business?
Of course, as we debate this issue here in Canada, we can't forget that the Americans are putting in place country-of-origin labelling in which they have taken no regard for international regulations. It's been a long process; it's been a clear process. We don't like the process, and we don't like what's happening, but we're going to be severely disadvantaged probably around September of this year.
We fully supported the Government of Canada's opposition to this. Nevertheless, of course they're moving forward.
In wrapping up, of course there are several rules and regulations that are affecting the meat industry. There is the Uruguay Round of WTO harmonization of rules of origin. There is the Canada Customs Tariff Act of 1997. There is the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act. There is the Meat Inspection Act, the meat inspection regulations, the meat hygiene manual of procedures, which is about 1,200 pages long. So if you are ever bored and can't sleep at night, you can read that.
So it's a very complicated issue. It sounds simple, but we urge you to do an in-depth review of all this and to take into consideration what real life things are happening before the decisions are made.
I will pass around a few other products. There is a fully cooked pork product made right in Toronto, a fantastic product. Here are some wieners, some Maple Leaf bacon. What could be more Canadian than that? Pass that around and see if you see any “Product of Canada” on it.
There is some lovely ham kielbasa. Again, it has the meat inspection legend on it but no “Product of Canada”.
Thank you very much. I look forward to your questions.