Evidence of meeting #45 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 beef.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Blair Coomber  Government Co-Chair, Beef Value Chain Roundtable, and Director General, Multilateral Relations, Policy and Engagement Directorate, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
  • Florian Possberg  Member, Board of Directors, Canadian Pork Council, Pork Value Chain Roundtable
  • Andrew Gordanier  Industry Co-Chair, Chair, Canadian Sheep Federation, Sheep Value Chain Roundtable
  • Travis Toews  Past-President, Canadian Cattlemen's Association, Beef Value Chain Roundtable

3:30 p.m.


The Chair Larry Miller

I call the meeting to order. We will have a few more members joining us, but we do have a quorum.

We have our witnesses here today from the beef value chain round table, the pork value chain round table, and the sheep value chain round table. We're going to start with the beef value chain round table. We have Mr. Blair Coomber and Mr. Travis Toews.

I understand, Mr. Coomber, you're going to start. You have 10 minutes or fewer, please.

3:30 p.m.

Blair Coomber Government Co-Chair, Beef Value Chain Roundtable, and Director General, Multilateral Relations, Policy and Engagement Directorate, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you for the invitation to be here.

I am going to make a few brief comments on behalf of the federal chairs, and then turn it over to each of the round tables.

Good afternoon, and thank you very much for the opportunity to speak on behalf of the value chain round tables. In March, our former colleague Steve Tierney provided you with an overview of the VCRT process in each of the 11 round tables.

Canada's agriculture and agrifood sector is world-renowned for the quality of its products, impeccable standards and regulations, as well as its innovative technology and research. While this sector maintains a strong advantage over global competition, the agriculture and agrifood sector can be a diverse and varied industry. Contributing factors include economics, geographic location, provincial and federal regulations, as well as environmental and social issues. The value chain round tables establish stability and cohesion within the sector, and provide an excellent platform for bringing together key industry leaders with the federal and provincial governments. The VCRTs are industry-led in partnership with government, and are innovative, efficient, and accountable.

No single segment of the value chain can, on its own, meet all the demands. Collaboration is necessary. Producers are working with processors and other stakeholders to find a mutually acceptable solution or course of action to address the major issues.

Round tables give every stakeholder, from field to fork, a single forum in which to discuss concerns and priorities with governments and other interested parties. Furthermore, the supply chain as a whole can contribute to the solution. This gives the industry access to federal government representatives to discuss solutions and concerns as they arise.

The VCRTs contribute to the sector's success via issue identification, coordination, and solution-based results that lead to better working supply chains and faster-growing sectors. Therefore, it is in the best interests of the industry and governments to collaborate.

The round tables will also bring together other government department officials who are integral in moving forward priority issues for the individual round tables as needed. Other government departments that the round tables work with include the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Environment Canada, Health Canada, Transport Canada, the Public Health Agency, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, and Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

Industry has found this forum extremely effective in producing tangible results and outcomes. It should be noted that the VCRTs have expanded from six to 11 round tables over the last four years, which is an indication of industry's interest in them and of their willingness to financially contribute to cover the cost of attending the round table meetings.

In addition to the round tables, the all chairs forum reinforces AAFC's commitment to the round table process and includes annual discussions between the value chain round table co-chairs, AAFC's deputy minister, and his federal colleagues. This provides a chance to widen interdepartmental engagement of industry issues and provides an opportunity to develop actions that will address issues of importance affecting all the round tables.

Other forums developed out of common cross-sectoral issues include the Agri-Subcommittee on Food Safety and the labour task force working group. This is a unique opportunity to highlight two successful round tables, beef and pork, and to introduce you to our newest round table, the Sheep VCRT. These two round tables provide perfect examples of how to successfully establish a functioning and productive sector by harnessing the supply chains' expertise and knowledge.

I'd like to highlight that the beef value chain round table was established just prior to the BSE outbreak in 2003. Its role during the BSE crisis is a prime example of the importance of these forums and their ability to manage crises. The forum served as a primary mechanism for consultation during the crisis and contributed to restoring the beef industry's competitive position, both domestically and globally.

The pork round table is focused on competitive issues and on moving the sector forward after the restructuring that took place a few years ago. The pork round table has developed a strategic plan that encompasses four pillars: the competitiveness environment, market penetration, value chain integration, and innovation and research.

Additionally, the pork round table successfully functioned as a media coordinating body for a government-industry communications response to the H1N1 flu epidemic. The newly formed sheep round table carries tremendous potential; however, the sector is facing major competitiveness issues that need to be addressed. This forum will assist in bringing together a fragmented industry to collaborate towards a common goal, contributing to the success of the sector.

Mr. Chair, members, I would like to introduce the industry co-chairs or representatives: Travis Toews, from the beef value chain round table; Florian Possberg, from the pork value chain round table; and Andrew Gordanier from the sheep value chain round table.

Now I would like to turn it over to each of them for some brief comments, if that's okay.

3:35 p.m.


The Chair Larry Miller

Mr. Possberg, do you want to go next?

3:35 p.m.

Florian Possberg Member, Board of Directors, Canadian Pork Council, Pork Value Chain Roundtable


Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I'm pleased to have this opportunity to meet with this committee today.

The pork value chain round table is dealing with a number of things. The Canadian pork industry is world-renowned for production standards and high-quality products. In 2011, we had sales of just over $3.2 billion and exported to more than 100 countries.

To maintain an advantage over global competitors, it is essential to offer products that exceed expectations, that are really second to none, and to differentiate the quality of offerings and add value to the final product. On that note, we've been able to successfully move more product, from frozen to fresh, into international global markets.

The pork value chain round table was launched in 2003 to provide a platform for discussing ideas, priorities, and solutions that will contribute to the long-term success of the industry. Like all round tables, the pork value chain round table requires input from across the supply chain. The suppliers include exporters and retailers and others involved in getting our pork to the marketplace.

Our round table focuses on competitiveness issues affecting the sector, and a strategic framework that is structured around four pillars drives our agenda. Number one is creating a competitive environment; two is maintaining market penetration; three is value chain integrity; and four is adding innovation to our industry.

The key challenge over the last five years has been to move from a period of the industry's surviving to one of its succeeding. In 2007 we were faced with a rapidly changing Canadian dollar, higher feed prices, and competition from various other interests that created difficult times for our industry. We really did see some repositioning of our business.

The success of the Canadian pork industry is largely dependent on its ability to differentiate the quality of offerings and add value to the final product. We've been involved in such things as Canadian quality assurance programs, which provide food safety and assurance for our customers globally.

The Canadian pork industry must be able to compete with international competitors. In the pork industry, the number one exporter globally is the United States, followed by the EU, and Canada is in third position. It is the Americans who set the benchmark.

We need to look at things such as improvements to transportation logistics to facilitate trade, the development of ways to reduce operating costs, and the improvement of the regulatory environment.

It's interesting to observe how regulations and logistics can affect the marketplace. I was amazed to learn that it costs more to move product from Red Deer to Vancouver than it does from Montreal to Vancouver. The difference is that one moves by rail and one goes across the tall hills by truck. Those things can be worked out with a focused interest and people working together.

The round table, in collaboration with government, is investigating how Canada's revenues and costs stack up against those of the U.S. and in fact global competitors. We know that Canada's ability to produce high-quality pork ranks with the very best—Brazil and maybe a couple other jurisdictions would be in the same position as Canada and the United States.

In reference to market penetration, the success and strength of the industry depends on access to markets around the world. This has been a strength of Canada. Our ability to export to 100 different countries is pretty amazing and is something we're very proud of. As with beef, market access is critical for the pork supply chain.

By negotiating access within countries' import regimes, addressing compliance requirements of international markets, completing free trade agreements, and implementing effective promotional programs to highlight Canadian products in key markets, we can ensure that Canadian products have access to lucrative global markets. There really is a difference between markets. Some are high-priced, high-quality markets, and some not so much.

The supply chain must provide the systems to ensure food safety, provide for animal welfare and traceability, and ensure stringent biosecurity measures. And that speaks to our health in Canada. It's interesting that Canada probably exports genetics to more countries globally than any other country in the world, and it's because we have a very good health status, and that's a prerequisite. Many of the leading genetic companies have located international operations to Canada for that very reason.

Our sector is currently finalizing an action plan on issues and initiatives that could influence different segments of the supply chain. We regard innovation and research as critical to maintaining the competitiveness of our industry. Our minister has been wise in investing in various initiatives in our industry, such as the Canadian Swine Health Board, which helps to maintain the status we have as a high-quality supplier of healthy pork and genetics.

Research and development priorities of pork producers include increasing food safety, enhancing animal welfare, reducing costs of production, and generating novel feed inputs. The pork round table is working to ensure that industry members take advantage of ongoing research being conducted throughout this sector.

What we see as our next steps, priority issues for 2012, include continually moving forward on the pillars of the strategic framework, maintaining our domestic market, initiating traceability across Canada, funding research and innovation, continuing to work with our federal government on market access, and ensuring our industry is prepared for emergencies.

In closing, Mr. Chairman, the pork sector has been through a tremendous amount of change over the last few years, but with collaboration on all levels, we will continue to strive towards a sector that is profitable, sustainable, and innovative. Thank you.

3:40 p.m.


The Chair Larry Miller

Thank you very much.

Mr. Gordanier, please go ahead.

3:40 p.m.

Andrew Gordanier Industry Co-Chair, Chair, Canadian Sheep Federation, Sheep Value Chain Roundtable

Thank you.

I'm here to talk about the sheep value chain round table. I will begin with just a little bit of background.

The main goal of the sector is to create a profitable industry that encompasses all areas of the supply chain. Presently, the supply chain is fragmented and needs to be harnessed for future success.

Comprised of meat, dairy, wool, and genetic sectors, Canada's sheep and lamb industry is focused primarily on the production of high-quality lamb meat. However, the development of sheep dairy products such as yogourts and cheeses is a new area that promises future success.

In 2010 Canadian producers supplied 42% of the domestic meat market demand for Canada, and the farm cash receipts for sheep and lamb in Canada totalled $142 million. The combination of population growth and shifting consumer demands indicate there will be a growing demand for lamb and sheep dairy products. This is an opportunity industry needs to capitalize on to ensure its long-term viability and profitability.

The Canadian sheep sector has enormous potential both domestically and internationally, yet the industry recognizes there are many issues facing the industry that will hinder its growth. While the industry has been seeing consistent increases in demand for the product, there is a worldwide shortage of lamb.

There has been a 3.3% decline in the amount of lamb imported into Canada in the past 12 months. The decrease is not surprising given that flocks worldwide have been shrinking. The global reduction can be attributed to increases in the cost of production, weather-related drought, and within-country competition for more profitable uses of land.

This is a huge opportunity for the industry to capitalize on, not just filling our domestic demand but also the export potential. It also becomes an issue of food security and ensuring there are diverse agricultural products produced in Canada to feed an ever-increasing population.

Industry and government are working together to advance and implement actions intended to improve the industry's competitive position and expand Canadian production. Collaboration along the supply chain and with governments is integral in any success the sector may have.

Achieving this competitive position requires expansive representation from all levels of the value chain. The sheep value chain round table was formally established in 2011 to develop a shared understanding of the key market challenges and opportunities facing the industry, and to enhance cooperation and interaction amongst all stakeholders along the sheep value chain.

Here are some challenges, issues, and other factors facing the sheep industry. Better coordination of industry knowledge will assist in transforming this industry in a fashion that is beneficial for rural Canada, the producers and processors, and other stakeholders.

The industry is also facing a reduced number of processors. There is a need to focus on ensuring the entire value chain is profitable. The way the lamb industry is structured, most lamb are killed in provincially inspected plants, so that the meat cannot leave the province in which it was processed. In trying to access more markets, plants have been trying to become federally inspected and several have ended up going bankrupt. This is not helping the industry.

Government and industry have prepared an economic analysis on the impact of increased supply of lamb on domestic price. This piece was very well received by industry and provides important information going forward.

One area of concern is competitive access to animal health products, for example, veterinary drugs. The sector, with the help of government, is working to make the system better for industry while protecting animal health. Sheep traceability offers the potential to the sheep sector to impose not only the ability to manage disease but also enhance its competitive position. This system is being built in partnership with federal, provincial, and territorial governments.

The advancement of the sheep industry is dependent upon keeping existing producers in business and attracting new entrants to the supply chain. Supporting the existing and new entrants will be a priority for the sector going forward.

Industry, in collaboration with government, has developed an action plan that will result in expanding the size and the productivity of the Canadian flock and will improve the overall competitiveness of the industry.

In the next steps forward, industry will continue to work with governments to develop plans that will contribute to fostering a successful Canadian sheep industry.

Finally, in closing, there is a remarkable amount of industry knowledge available that can be tapped into to work towards making this sector another success story.

Thank you.

3:45 p.m.


The Chair Larry Miller

Thank you very much.

We'll now move to questions.

Ms. Raynault, five minutes.

June 6th, 2012 / 3:50 p.m.


Francine Raynault Joliette, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

My question is for Mr. Toews.

The industry went through a serious crisis in—

3:50 p.m.


The Chair Larry Miller

I'm sorry, I maybe jumped the gun.

3:50 p.m.


Francine Raynault Joliette, QC

Okay. Thanks.

3:50 p.m.


The Chair Larry Miller

Mr. Toews, Mr. Coomber never mentioned you, and I apologize, I thought we were done there.

Madam Raynault, we'll come back to you in a few minutes, and you will get your full time.

Mr. Toews.

3:50 p.m.

Travis Toews Past-President, Canadian Cattlemen's Association, Beef Value Chain Roundtable

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

For those who don't know me, my wife, family, and I own and operate a cow-calf and yearling operation out of Grande Prairie, Alberta. I appreciate this opportunity to present on behalf of the beef value chain round table.

The Canadian beef industry is a global leader, known for its premium products, world-renowned genetics, innovation and research, as well as its investments in food safety and quality. The biggest importers of Canadian beef are the United States, Mexico, and Japan. In 2009 Canada's beef exports totalled over $1.2 billion.

Launched in 2003, the beef value chain round table was established to foster a collaborative industry-government relationship that would secure an enduring competitive advantage for Canada in global markets. In 2003 and subsequent years it served as a BSE round table and enabled initiatives and solutions from the total supply chain during that time.

The beef supply chain in Canada has many different interconnected parts from genetics, feed manufacturers, backgrounders, cow-calf operations, feedlots, renderers, processors, food service, and retailers. There are places in the supply chain where each of these parts interact with one another, and there are issues of common concern and priority for all parts of the supply chain. However, there are also parts of the supply chain where the priorities and/or concerns are different and distinct.

For example, it's in the best interests of all parts of the supply chain for additional markets to open to Canadian beef. It is also in the best interests of all that each sector functions in the most competitive manner possible. The challenge is to grow the total pie so that all members of the supply chain have additional opportunity.

Competitiveness issues are incredibly important to the sector and recent key priorities include own-use imports, traceability, e-certification, the temporary foreign worker programs, the beef legacy fund, and regulatory cooperation with the United States. AAFC and other government departments are actively working with the sector to move forward on a number of these priorities. However, there are examples where the industry feels faster movement is necessary. Improving the regulatory environment through regulatory modernization concerning e-certification, the approval processes for veterinary drugs, new plant varieties, and food safety interventions remains a top priority for the sector.

The sector continues to dedicate attention to determining and updating market access priorities and is working alongside the Canadian Beef Breeds Council, the Canadian Livestock Genetics Association, and Canada Beef Inc., to increase international and domestic market development. Innovation and research enable the industry to maintain a globally competitive edge, and the supply chain has played a role in the creation of the beef science cluster.

The sector is in the process of drafting a national beef research strategy that will define a five-year national beef research strategy that establishes desired industry research outcomes and improves coordination of funders. AAFC has been involved in the creation of this strategy and continues to support the sector moving forward.

A key priority for the sector is the management of information transfer issues associated with tracking and traceability. The beef information exchange system, developed by the Canadian Cattlemen's Association, is a program that's a world-renowned example of this. Both are important and effective tools that support emergency management by enabling the flow of information across the agrifood chain, and therefore, reduce the economic impacts of an emergency.

Recently the round table took the opportunity to review its objectives with a goal of resetting its agenda. This revised agenda will be considered further at future meetings.

Looking ahead, the beef value chain round table will continue to work on identified issues of importance and next steps over the course of 2012 and beyond. Key priority issues going forward for the beef value chain round table include exploring value creation opportunities, development of the beef research strategy, and continuing to work on competitiveness issues identified by the industry.

In conclusion, the beef value chain round table's vision is to lead the world in profitable, innovative beef solutions together. I will say that while many of our issues, in particular regulatory challenges, move slower than we would like to see, I don't know of a venue where we have advanced those regulatory issues of concern in a more constructive way than at the beef value chain round table.

One of the table's most important achievements has been the improvement in the spirit of collaboration across the beef value chain.

The beef value chain round table has also been instrumental in establishing a foreign veterinary presence, resulting in four CFIA veterinarians posted abroad in key markets.

Another beef value chain round table initiative has been the creation of the Market Access Secretariat. While the beef value chain wasn't the initial organization to kickstart that initiative, it certainly lent a lot of support in its establishment.

Again, as was mentioned, the beef value chain round table was instrumental in managing and enhancing communication during the BSE crisis. It played a pivotal role during that time. It has also been very instrumental in working with the Bureau of Veterinary Drugs to enhance their resources and eliminate the backlog in approval of new products. It has worked ultimately to contribute to the beef cattle industry firmly recovering its global competitive position.

Finally, I would be remiss not to thank Minister Ritz, Minister Fast and Prime Minister Stephen Harper for their support and assistance, and for moving forward with many of the priorities that have been identified at the beef value chain round table.

3:55 p.m.


The Chair Larry Miller

Thank you very much.

Ms. Raynault, for five minutes.

3:55 p.m.


Francine Raynault Joliette, QC

Thank you.

Mr. Toews, mad cow triggered a serious crisis in your industry back in 2002, preventing you from accessing many markets. I believe that things are falling back in place.

Do you think that efforts to open markets will put you on the right path and allow you to return, 10 years later, to 2002 export rates?

In your estimate, how much has the industry lost since 2002? People are eating less and less beef, opting instead for poultry. What kind of advertising do you do to tell people that beef is now safe, that mad cow is a thing of the past? How do you respond to all that?

3:55 p.m.

Past-President, Canadian Cattlemen's Association, Beef Value Chain Roundtable

Travis Toews

Thank you for that question. I think it's a very appropriate question for the cattle industry at this point in time.

As you've noted, we did experience a serious setback in 2003 when we lost all of our market access due to the discovery of BSE. I don't think the losses to the industry have been entirely quantified but they clearly were in the billions of dollars. It was a significant setback for the industry, and the supply chain that supported that industry.

Due to a lot of work by industry members and key government officials and work through the beef value chain round table, we have recovered the vast majority of that market access that had been lost. The industry is moving into a much brighter day. In fact, we're finding ourselves very competitive globally in spite of a high dollar and very high feed prices.

While with higher prices, per capita consumption of beef has dropped slightly, demand as measured by quantity times price has held constant here in Canada. We're very pleased about that. We're appreciative to Canadian consumers for supporting the industry.

You make a very good point on what's next in terms of market development both domestically and abroad. That's an issue our industry has taken quite seriously. In fact, it was really that question which prompted the reorganization of our market development organizations, which consisted of the Canada Beef Export Federation to look after our international market development, and the Beef Information Centre to deal with our North American market development.

In order to make better use of the funding and to be more efficient, we've combined those two organizations into Canada Beef Inc. That new organization is up and running with a new executive director. They've hit the ground running. They have both a very comprehensive domestic North American market development program, as well as a very targeted, focused international market development program.

We believe the time is right to really move forward with that market development work on behalf of the industry.