For the committee's record, I've also been the industry co-chair of the Agriculture Canada value chain round table for food processing in Canada.
I'm going to address some of these remarks from a national perspective, and I will tie them together in terms of Growing Forward 1 and Growing Forward 2. We could go back to the APF if you want to talk about these things and how the transitions have not worked terribly well.
Canadian consumers have pretty simple wants. They want tasty, nutritious, and safe food at an affordable price, and they have definitely expressed a preference for Canadian food products. There's a little bit of nationalism tied into that. The Canada brand group out of Agriculture Canada have done some study. They did a beautiful virtual store study. If you ever get a chance, have a look at it. It indicates clearly that Canadians prefer Canadian product as long as it's priced competitively with other products from around the world, and that horizon is at about the 10% level, so we have a problem with “Product of Canada” in this country, and I'll talk about that in a few more minutes.
Safety is an expectation of consumers. It is not a marketing issue. It is not something that you can go out and sell. I used to be the president of the Superstore division of Loblaw companies, and I can tell you I never had a customer walk in, stand in an aisle, look up and down, and say, “What's not safe?”. It was all safe, and it bloody well better be.
I'm speaking to you today on how the government needs to recognize the Canadian consumer through its next five-year federal-provincial policy agreement, which we refer to as Growing Forward 2.
Growing Forward 1 and the previous five-year program before that, APF, were focused primarily on primary agriculture, with little or no focus on processing. Unfortunately, the current minister expresses no interest in the processing side of his department. He repeatedly states his position as “farmers first”, and this is reflected in the focus of the department, although it has improved somewhat since 2009 with the previous Minister of State for Agriculture getting involved with us.
Progress was made when we formed the Food Processors Competitiveness Working Group in 2008. The previous Minister of State, the Honourable Jean-Pierre Blackburn, took an interest in leading the creation of the round table and the development of growing the Canadian food processing sector. An industry-government action plan was announced by Minister Blackburn on January 24, 2011. That action plan is available on the Agriculture Canada website. There were 36 action items in it dealing with economics, market access, R and D and innovation, and regulatory reform.
What has that got to do with consumers? I'm going to show you very clearly that it has a great deal to do with consumers.
First is a little bit of background. You may or may not be aware that food processing is the largest manufacturing industry in Canada. It represents $89 billion of economic output, but that's down from $94 billion just three years ago, and that erosion is one of the things that's going to negatively affect consumers and one of the things we have to address in policy.
Food sales to Canadian consumers are about $160 billion. Two-thirds of that comes through retail; one-third comes through food service.
Food processing is the largest manufacturing employer in Canada, currently employing approximately 270,000 Canadians directly, and if you add in the goods and services and ancillary operations, it's pretty close to a million Canadians out of our workforce of 20 million. However, that number is down from 305,000, again, just four short years ago. We've had 58 significant plant closures over that four-year period. I can point out too, and I will, how that is negatively affecting consumers and why we need to address that issue in Growing Forward 2.
Industry currently supplies 77% of the processed food and beverage products available in Canada. Industry currently purchases 40% of all Canadian agricultural outputs. The number is higher in the livestock sections, where it's 65% to 68% in beef and pork, particularly.
There are 6,400 food and beverage establishments in Canada, with the concentration in Ontario, Quebec, B.C., and Alberta, but 90% of those are SMEs, meaning fewer than 100 employees, and 29% of them have 5 or fewer employees. The large establishments make up less than 5% of the plants, but they process 50% of the output, and we have some policy issues related to those statistics that I hope will be addressed in Growing Forward 1 and Growing Forward 2.
In Canada, 60% of the food processing facilities are domestically owned, but this is a shrinking number.
Probably one of the things that would surprise a lot of Canadians is that McCain doesn't actually have a Canadian president anymore. The Canadian operations report to a U.S. president in Chicago.
The industry is increasingly dominated by a few companies. The largest 50 account for 60% of all food production in Canada. Meat accounts for 27% of the output. That rose 9% in 2010 as beef got into some other markets again. That is versus 2% for the total industry, but, if you do the math very quickly, you'll find out that the entire increase in the total industry came because of the weighted average of beef. As beef goes, so has gone the industry over the last few years. There's been no real growth. Shipment increases have merely paralleled the Canadian population growth over the last five-year horizon.
The part that probably impacts consumers the most—and there are a number of policy issues to be dealt with on this—is on the import side. In 2010 we imported $21 billion of food into this country. In 2004 we had a positive trade balance of $5 billion; in 2009 we were negative $1.9 billion. In a five-year horizon we had a $7 billion shift, and not in the right direction. In 2010 it came back a bit because of the beef; we were $300 million negative. In 2004 we were the number three food-exporting nation in the world; in 2009 we had slipped to number nine. In 2010, with the beef back, we managed to wiggle our way back up to number seven.
The high Canadian dollar is weakening our exports to the U.S. It's encouraging U.S. companies to close Canadian branch plants, and those are a big part of the 58 plants that have gone. Our trade balance, although it's positive, is still way below the $6 billion with the U.S. that we had in 2004.
There are a number of reasons. I refer you, if you haven't looked at it, to the study by the George Morris Centre that indicates that the Canadian processing industry is 40% less productive than the U.S. on average. They updated that study in 2005. The reasons are primarily high wage and benefit costs, lower levels of automation, and outdated facilities.
What does all this have to do with consumers and Growing Forward 2? Canadian consumers believe, and rightly so, that food grown and processed in Canada delivers precisely what they demand. There is a high degree of certainty about safety, it's nutritious and tasty, and it supports the Canadian economy. Even though they may not articulate it clearly, it's my belief that if Canadian consumers were aware of the continuing threat to their domestic food supply and therefore to food security, they would insist that the Government of Canada take strong affirmative action to retain and renew this vital industry for the benefit of all Canadians. Government policy needs to change, and it begins with Growing Forward 2.
I'm going to give you a few of the issues that need to be addressed through federal policy.
The first and foremost issue that's causing the erosion of this industry in this country, and thereby causing the replacement of domestic product with import product for our Canadian consumer, is simply the lack of access to affordable capital. This capital is required in terms of improving our productivity, automating, modernizing, and getting competitive with the rest of the world. We had the benefit of being behind a 60¢ dollar, and even up to an 85¢ dollar. We were competitive in world markets and domestic markets at those kinds of currency exchange rates. At a $1 dollar we are not competitive, and we continue to lose share to the United States.
I'll talk more about safety standards, if the chairman doesn't give me the boot, because there are some very scary things happening on the food safety side. There was a test case done out of Growing Forward 1.
Here's one of the policy issues. There was a $500 million fund, AgriFlex, that was part of Growing Forward 1. They took $50 million of that and put it into what they call the API, the AgriProcessing Initiative, which was to put a loan program in place. It had a $2 million cap as an interest-free loan, to be paid back over seven years with a first year holiday, so it was an eight-year period. That program has pretty much all been distributed, and we're just starting to see the results come back from it. That was a good experiment in terms of what could be done and how we might address these issues, but $2 million, I can assure you, in a plant of any consequence, has almost no impact whatsoever. The number is far too small, as is $50 million.
I'm suggesting that we need to address that issue in Growing Forward 2. We have the test case in Growing Forward 1; in Growing Forward 2, we need to address that particular policy, we need a direction, and we need to make some very strong changes.
On food safety standards, there were a number of things done in Growing Forward 1 in terms of improving or supporting food safety in Canada. The difficulty is that we are basically facing five different standards that food manufacturers try to meet in this country.
One would consider the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and its standard to be top of the list. Unfortunately, it is closer to the bottom. Although a federally inspected plant must meet those standards and any inspector from CFIA can come in and shut down your plant with no recourse—there is no ombudsman, no way to get this turned around quickly—even when you comply, it doesn't necessarily mean you're going to be able to sell domestically or to a foreign market. The export certificates are not recognized in most markets. We're in the middle of this discussion with the European Union, and they send their own inspectors over here. They couldn't care less what CFIA says in terms of the export certificate.
Turning to Loblaws, you had better have a BRC standard if you want to sell to Loblaws. That is over and above what the CFIA standard is, and it requires equipment and plant changes. If you want to sell to Walmart, you need SQF. That's different again, so heaven help the poor manufacturer who is trying to supply two or even three different customers who have three different standards they have to achieve.
For the product approval process, there was money taken from Growing Forward 1 to support Health Canada to streamline the product approval process. If we want to see innovation and development of new product in Canada, we need to take a stronger approach to that aspect. Some improvement was made, but we are still extremely slow.
On market access, current programs in Growing Forward 1 are focused primarily on primary agriculture. There's a small program there to support the processing sector, but it's aimed at small manufacturers and it's a very limited program. In Growing Forward 2, we need to see that program expanded, and we need to include the larger manufacturers, because that's where you get the best bang for the buck, and there are going to be more purchases from Canadian farmers.
One that you're probably sick of hearing about—we addressed this committee many years ago on this subject—is “Product of Canada”. For all practical purposes, the 98% guideline has resulted in the removal of “Product of Canada” from Canadian manufactured food products. We are in the process right now of seeing more and more American products show up. The Canadian product is not identified. The American product is—with 51% U.S. content—so they now have the advantage. If the consumer looks at it and can't determine if it's a Canadian product, well, the next best thing is to get something from the United States, something that at least it is not coming from Southeast Asia.
Canadian manufacturers are at another disadvantage there. This 98% guideline flew in the face of this standing committee's recommendation that 85% was the right thing to do, and we still have a problem with it.