Good morning, everyone.
I apologize for reading from my notes. I have been out of town so I'm going to read from my notes.
Thank you for giving me this opportunity. Most of the things I will speak about today were brought forward in the Next Generation of Agriculture and Agri-Food Policy's submission from Rainy River, which Ken is quite familiar with. During that process, we suggested as an alternative vision for agriculture a truly sustainable industry that focuses on delivering wholesome food and non-food products and services to local markets and to all Canadians before serving offshore markets. Guiding principles are fairness, environmental responsibility, and regional diversity and self-reliance.
Since I was asked to speak on behalf of the Rainy River Local Food for Local People committee, the CFIA definition of local food is a great place to start. CFIA states that goods must originate within 50 kilometres of where they are being sold in order to be labelled “local”. So within the Rainy River district, honey that is produced in the west end of our district cannot be labelled “local” if it is offered at the farmers' market in Fort Francis.
The most logical local market for Rainy River products is the rest of northwestern Ontario, which is not suited for food production--for example, Kenora, Dryden, Sioux Lookout. Even though we are the closest producers, we cannot be considered local under this flawed definition. A national definition of “local” must take into account the local realities.
With respect to issues with Canadian inspection, interprovincial borders hinder the sale and transport of beef, hog, poultry, and produce, making it hard for producers to compete at the national level. CFIA inspection fees are paid by producers and plants in Canada but are funded in the U.S. by the government, thus creating another competitive disadvantage for us.
National meat inspection legislation is called for that fits all Canadian meat. Currently, producers cannot direct market their product to other provinces or national retailers without federal inspection. One level of inspection would eliminate this. A national standard would help so that all provinces compete on one level playing field.
Another example, for instance, is Ontario, which is the only province to limit the flocks of laying hens to less than 100. Other provinces allow farmers to run hundreds of birds without a quota.
Imported foods. We realize this will continue, but to prevent unfair competition, imported foods must be required to meet the same safety and quality standards as domestic products. Imported food should have a sticker that states “imported”, or the country of origin.
Definitions should be made clearer. “Made in Canada”, “Product of Canada”, and our “Grown in Canada” are clearly misleading. Large companies continue to get around current labelling systems by bringing products into our country, making the minimal change and labelling it the product of Canada. This is clearly false and gives the consumer misinformation.
Labels need to send a clear message. They are clearly misrepresented when the product is imported, but because they have been packaged or advertising dollars were spent in Canada, it can read “Product of Canada”. It places no value on the product itself.
Greater value should be placed on Canadian products than on imported food. Regulations should accommodate small, local, and artesian food production. Producers should be allowed to supply local markets by selling vegetables, meat, eggs, and milk at the farm gate.
Local food systems will result in a safer food supply, fresher products, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, better environmental stewardship, increased farm incomes--with more jobs remaining in the area--and a healthy population.
Given the recent worries with tainted food, Canada must demand the same standards on the foreign products as it does on the domestic. Anything grown or caught in a country should state so on the label. Current rules are stopping us from making the changes we need.
When you factor in that we are losing the ability to feed ourselves as the food we eat is increasingly imported, it quickly becomes clear that we are at a crossroads in the history of our food production and distribution systems. We need widespread change and reform.
A food system that is suitable will be financially viable for all stakeholders, primarily local and regional, ecologically responsible in its operations, and socially responsible. Government assistance should go toward supporting and building infrastructure that will stabilize agriculture.
Developing new products is difficult because we now compete with highly subsidized imports and third world labour. A new rule by CFIA requiring nutrition labelling on all products at $6,000 per analysis, so we've been told, will be prohibitive for small-scale local food processors. A small processor cannot afford these large costs. This puts local foods at a disadvantage and small processors out of business.
As we speak, Canada is losing its last canning factory. Costs have substantially increased to the point at which they can export the product and have it processed and brought back into the country with fewer costs attached. The latest SRM rules are very costly and are putting the small plants in a terrible predicament.
The local plants are key for local food, but the large expanse of SRM disposal is putting many out of business. Sadly, CFA allowed feed companies to include animal protein in the feed formulation made for ruminants. This is what triggered BSE. BSE was a costly incident, and the costs continue with the new SRM regulations. The large companies that triggered this problem should be held responsible for cost recovery of the BSE damage. The recent rule has played a role in the closure of the GenPar food plant, which is another letdown for the beef industry.
Currently, our system is not designed to give producers a fair shake. The value chain is not serving producers well. Producers, processors, retailers, and consumers should all be treated fairly. Regulation allows for dominance by big chains. Regulation eliminates production of local food, and everyone becomes a franchisee of big-label companies. Currently, a producer isn't getting what he needs to make money and value has to be added, but the system is currently helping only the food distributors and grocery stores. Profit is built into the cost of a product coming into a plant instead of it being the cost of production plus the cost of materials. The focus needs to be on meeting local market needs in supplying Canadian people before serving our offshore markets. We need to promote local food, and we need a solution and a plan now.
As the cost of energy continues to rise, we need to develop a local food initiative so that we are not so energy dependent. If energy prices continue to increase, we will see a huge change. Food may then only migrate to the largely populated centres on the major highway routes. We need a plan to sustain food for the hinterland and become regionally more self-reliant. This will mean generating knowledge of how to grow our food and how to preserve it. We may also have to learn to accept a more seasonal diet. Luckily, in Rainy River we have plenty of beef.
Small-scale alternative energy production on farms should be encouraged. These would be less vulnerable than large-scale production and would ensure a more stable and diverse power supply.
In order to develop a system now, we need to eliminate laws and regulations that hold us back. The plan needs to include all ages, and especially our youth. Schools could start by growing their own healthy snacks for the classroom. Everyone must have access to safe, nutritious, and culturally appropriate food in sufficient quantity and quality to sustain a healthy life with full human dignity.
Currently, Clover Valley Farmers' Market in Fort Frances is about to launch a very exciting project. They're working with others to develop a regional local food box program. This program will increase local food production and is breaking ground toward a less centralized food supply.
Rainy River District feels that the local food movement is here to stay, and we would like all government levels to cooperate to make local food a reality. Local food production has the potential to affect every one of us. We will be looking for more farmers as this new movement grows. Canada may never produce all of what we will consume, but even a small shift toward eating Canadian will have a dramatic impact on the agriculture industry.
In conclusion, I would like to reiterate the need for national legislation for meat inspection, eliminating the provincial barriers. Changes need to be made to labels of imported food, and Canadian producers should not be burdened with regulations that won't allow them to compete. We need to create a workable solution for local food production and we need to develop and create partnerships to educate the needs for and benefits of local food.