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Evidence of meeting #27 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 need.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Ted Johnston  President and Chief Executive Officer, Alberta Food Processors Association
Rick Culbert  President, Food Safety Division, Bioniche Life Sciences Inc.
Anna Paskal  Senior Policy Advisor, Food Secure Canada

4:50 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Alberta Food Processors Association

Ted Johnston

It's across the board in terms of the term “Product of Canada” being removed from labels on Canadian-processed product. The manufacturer could not comply with it. If you add pepper to something, or any of those types of things, you don't hit the 98% guideline. This committee did quite a study a couple of years back and came out with an 85% guideline; industry said it could live with that one.

When we ship it to the United States, of course, we have to reprint our labels and put “Product of Canada” back on, but we can't use that terminology here.

A study by the department, the virtual store study, showed that identifying a product as Canadian positively impacts sales. They've run a number of pilot programs on that, and those results are available to this committee.

They're suggesting the way around it is to use other terminology—“Made with 100% Canadian Strawberries”, for example. I call it the weasels. That's a statement that could be made, but it still requires a separate label. If you do part of your business in Canada and part of it in the United States, you have two different labels, and that adds to the costs. It's another one of the pieces of the puzzle.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Storseth Conservative Westlock—St. Paul, AB

Ms. Paskal, my last couple of questions are to you.

I read what you talked about here in regard to land ownership. I have a local start-up company called Nilsson Bros. out of Westlock. Would you suggest that a Canadian company like this would still be able to buy land in Canada and use it? Are you just talking about foreign nationals here?

4:50 p.m.

Senior Policy Advisor, Food Secure Canada

Anna Paskal

Yes, definitely.

What we're trying to make the connection between, for instance, is countries like China that are going to countries in Africa and buying up massive tracts of land to be able to feed their populations into the future, and Canada, which needs to start looking forward in that way. We need to make sure that farms and farmland in Canada are producing food by Canadians and for Canadians.

That's the gist of it. I'm going to take a look at the wording there because I think we may not have explained it as clearly as we could.

Thank you.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Storseth Conservative Westlock—St. Paul, AB

Okay, thank you.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Larry Miller

We'll now move to Mr. Atamanenko for five minutes.

4:50 p.m.

NDP

Alex Atamanenko NDP British Columbia Southern Interior, BC

Thanks very much.

Thanks to all of you for being here. I'm going to try to formulate my thoughts and to be as precise as possible to allow you as much time as possible to answer.

I just have some comments. It seems to me when we're talking about some kind of a national policy or a sustainable food strategy, we have this juxtaposition between trade and sovereignty. How do we, as a trading nation, balance our sovereignty with the ability to continue trade and to pursue markets? I would say the goal of this government seems to be more to pursue more markets and to get more markets for our farmers who trade, and I understand that.

I did a tour across this country a few years ago and I put a report together on a food strategy. In your organization and the Liberal Party and the National Farmers Union and the Federation of Agriculture there seems to be this desire to have some kind of a food strategy.

Things hit us. As you mentioned, off-farm income is an issue with large farms. The fruit and vegetable sector has really been hammered by trade agreements. There's push-back from the minister saying that we've got to be careful of trade obligations when we're considering one of the points you had in your report about procurement. All these things seem to be there. You mentioned will, Mr. Johnston, and I would like to submit that we need the will.

I have a couple of questions. Can we truly have a national food policy without reconsiderng our trade agreements, for example? Without renegotiating NAFTA, can we truly have a national policy? Is it political will that we need to find this correct balance between trade and sovereignty?

In regard to Food Secure Canada, what concrete elements would you include, for example, in a sustainable local food strategy? What are other priorities? How could we work together to develop this, and what role could you play?

This touches, of course, on the processing sector. It seems like such an overall problem, and yet we need to move towards this area. How can we do that, keeping in mind sovereignty, on the one hand, and trade?

I'll stop there.

Anna, maybe you could start.

4:55 p.m.

Senior Policy Advisor, Food Secure Canada

Anna Paskal

Thank you very much for the questions.

Certainly we need political will. A shift in direction would need to take place, and it would include looking at our trade agreements. We need to, for instance, continue to defend supply management. Supply management isn't perfect, and there are ways of making it better, but fundamentally it matches demand to the need and keeps the production in Canada and local. That's a very strong policy approach that we already have, and it is under attack globally. In the trade arena, we need to keep our eye on supply management while we're working to make it better and serve the needs of small farmers and new farmers entering into agriculture.

We also need to look at new trade agreements like the Canadian-European trade agreement, which, as we understand it, would prohibit the protection of local food procurement. That's something I hope MPs are looking at closely. When a new trade agreement comes up, is it affecting what we're already trying to do to protect Canadian food and Canadian food production and processing?

We've touched a bit on some of the concrete elements we would propose for a local and sustainable food strategy, but I'll run through them.

The first would be a kind of a paradigm shift from viewing export as the main goal for Canadian agriculture to acknowledging the broader environmental, social, and environmental benefits to shifting resources into the country to support local and sustainable food systems—hand in hand with trade, yes, but not this massive emphasis on trade and very little support for local and sustainable. That would need better integration, because fundamentally food—and that's why we're talking about a national food strategy—covers the departments of agriculture, health, trade, environment, and education. Maybe we need a minister of food who would have some kind of interministerial responsibility and could look at how all these things connect.

Then we need to look at the supply side and the demand side. On the supply side, as we were discussing earlier, we need more farmers and new farmers. We get a lot of new Canadians into the country with farming backgrounds. It would be great to be able to support them into farming and to be able to support young farmers, as we were discussing earlier. I mentioned that we've lost 62% of our farmers under 35 in a 15-year period.

We need to rebuild the middle of our value chain. We were talking about this, and I believe we share a lot with the Alberta Food Processors Association in this sense, which is that we need to also support small-scale food processors. They need help with R and D support for small-scale processing, as well as changes in inspection to favour decentralization and diversity in scale, so that some small producer who has five employees isn't dealing with the same intensity of inspection that some of the larger processors are.

Support for supply management is one of the concrete elements, as I said.

Transition to sustainable agriculture is a big one. Many industrial agricultural farmers, let's say—larger farmers who are producing using chemical methods—they would like to shift to more ecological methods, whether that's organic or not. We need to support that shift, not place the burden uniquely on them. At the same time, we need to look at changes in the way we do livestock and meat processing. All those details are in the document I circulated.

On the demand side, it would start with a huge overhaul of our education approach. We need to be able to put forward the benefits of local and sustainable food, in formal and informal channels at all levels. A lot of community organizations are doing this already to support some of the work.

For example, I was talking about FoodShare, which runs regional food hubs that bring in fruits and vegetables from nearby farmers and make them available at affordable rates to schools. It also has an incredible education curriculum, point by point for each grade from kindergarten on, around cooking, around food, around nutrition, around health. By the end, when they graduate, they know how to access and prepare healthy food. These are lifelong skills.

We also need these large-scale shifts in procurement policies that I was talking about. To me this is really fundamental. This is systemic change. We need to look at procurement and making the procurement have more Canadian sustainable standards.

We need clear labelling. As Ted Johnston was saying, it's crazy that Canadians can't walk into a grocery store and easily identify what is Canadian. We would take that one step further and say there should also be “sustainable local” labelling so that people can see that it's meeting certain standards on environment and all other aspects that are included in sustainability.

The last element is simplifying procurement—aggregating, bringing producers together with intermediaries who can make it easy to buy local and sustainable food.

We really feel that these elements of the strategy very much address what the outcomes are that we're looking for in a new Growing Forward strategy. Four priorities have been named, and two of them are adaptability and sustainability. Managing risk, anticipating change, adjusting to the market and environmental pressures, and maintaining our resources—the local and sustainable food strategy hits all of those key outcomes that we're looking for.

In terms of how we can work together, the food movement makes up the innovators and the entrepreneurs of the local sustainable food system in Canada. They have started small across the country. There are thousands of fantastic projects from coast to coast to coast. Taking a really good look at that and seeing which ones would make sense to scale up, which ones need support, which ones need enabling through policy—these would have real structural changes on our food system.

We don't need to spend a lot of government money developing new programs or doing a lot of research studies. We can look at what's being done on the ground across the country and build on that. Food Secure Canada and our membership would be very happy to participate in a joint exercise of that nature with government.

5 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Larry Miller

Thank you very much.

Mr. Zimmer is next.

February 29th, 2012 / 5 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

Thanks for coming today, folks.

I have a question for Ted. You're talking to the right side of the table in terms of reducing red tape. That's what we're about. We're reducing levels of unnecessary regulation. That is who we are, and we have already moved toward this.

You talked about provincial and federal harmonization in meat inspection. We are doing these things. We are working toward that.

Since you're from Loblaws, your experience—your former life, I guess—has been within that system, correct?

5 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Alberta Food Processors Association

Ted Johnston

I spent 45 years in retail here and in the United States.

5 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

Right.

You talked about different standards for Walmart, Loblaws, etc. Those frustrate us as well, but as you know, we have a federal standard, so creating another federal standard to say that this is what you have to do, and you don't need the rest....

As somebody who's been in that particular system for so long, if you were sitting in my chair right now, how would you suggest we fix that?

5:05 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Alberta Food Processors Association

Ted Johnston

I'm not sure that legislating it is the answer, obviously, because we are in a market economy and we have a free market out there, and they are entitled to do their thing. However, the Government of Canada and the appropriate ministers can certainly influence those types of decisions to bring some rationale and some thought to the issue.

I know it was attempted in Europe a number of years ago, the idea being that they would have that single standard and then one audit would be good for the five major retail chains throughout Europe. It lasted about two years before it fell apart. Now they're all back to sending their own inspectors into those plants again.

The bottom line is it's not an easy task, but it's killing us right now.

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

You say that it was initially the way you would have wished it to be, but it has moved back. Can you explain the rationale for why it didn't stay, or what you perceive to be the reason why?

5:05 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Alberta Food Processors Association

Ted Johnston

The difficulty occurs when someone in any given organization who has influence within that organization says they need a better standard than they have. Remember, this is not altruistic. It has nothing to do with altruism at all. They're doing this because food is the next tobacco; we're just about to start getting sued over these things, and they're doing their absolute utmost to ensure that they don't get themselves caught in this situation, so they're getting advice from somebody within their organization, or outside it, that this standard is the good one and the one they have to go with. At the same time, somebody in another organization has made the case for something else.

We don't know how it came about, but we've ended up with this hodgepodge that is very difficult to meet.

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

Right.

Again, we're with you, but in suggesting that this is a problem—we all know it's a problem—if you, an expert of 45 years' experience, can't give us an absolute solution, or your best wish for a solution, then it's going to be....

I guess we're just looking for a solution; again, we want that.

5:05 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Alberta Food Processors Association

Ted Johnston

If I thought for a minute that I could get Galen and the head of Sobeys and the head of Safeway and the head of Save-On-Foods, Jimmy Pattison's group, together in a room, and that they would actually come because I invited them, I would do so. Unfortunately, they won't come because I make that phone call, and I think that's really what we're talking about: there is a level where that phone call could take place. There could be a discussion. There could be an encouragement that might possibly influence them.

I think that's what we're talking about.

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

Okay. Thank you.

Do I still have time left, Mr. Chair?

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Larry Miller

You have a couple of minutes.

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

Anna, I have a question for you.

I like being able to buy corn from our farmers' market and I like to be able to buy Peace River beef from the store. We like that part of it, but I had a question for you.

In some of your literature you talk about sustainability, and you say right now what we're doing is unsustainable. What I want you to define is what “sustainable” means to you. To me, “sustainable” means a farmer can grow and sell his product without government help, and that it can be sustained on a long-term basis. You mentioned that a lot of the time some of this isn't financially beneficial to the grower, possibly, so how is that sustainable in the long term?

5:05 p.m.

Senior Policy Advisor, Food Secure Canada

Anna Paskal

I think the common definition of sustainability that's usually used is meeting our needs now without compromising our resources to meet our needs in the future. Another way that I would look at it is—I don't know if you guys have heard of the “100-mile diet”—eating food grown within 100 miles. We're trying to shift that idea to the 100-year diet, meaning being able to have the resources and the resource base to be able to eat well in 100 years. That's how we would look at it.

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

I have another question that relates to sustainability. In one of your comments you say that it brings healthy and fresh food to more people. We all know that modern methods of agriculture produce more food. It just is a reality that it does, rather than the old way, so I'm curious to know how we are we going to get fresh food to more people with your solution.

5:05 p.m.

Senior Policy Advisor, Food Secure Canada

Anna Paskal

I would answer that in two parts.

One is that when we refer to bringing more food to more people, that's around local agriculture and supporting local producers. It's easier if you shorten the chain to have fresher and healthier food available locally.

I would also posit that in fact it's not necessarily true that you can grow more food for more people using monocultural approaches. In fact, if you look at studies done internationally, in a diverse resource base where you have fuel, fodder, and food being grown in the same place, the yields are actually higher, so there is some analysis to be done around the basic premise that you brought forward.

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

If that's the case, why isn't our agriculture system doing that right now?

5:10 p.m.

Senior Policy Advisor, Food Secure Canada

Anna Paskal

That is a very big question.

That has to do with subsidies and our industrial agriculture system, and putting us on a trend toward export-based commodities. If you're selling one product, then you want to make the most of that one product if your goal is to increase exports. If your goal is to feed people and build a strong resource base, then you look at different outcomes: you look at net farm income, you look at long-term sustainability on an environmental level, you look at health outcomes. It has to do with what outcomes you're looking for.

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

But at the end of the day it also has to be sustainable in terms of having a farmer who can afford to buy the land, buy a tractor, and actually pay the bills.

My last question—