Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. I appreciate being here today, especially with two great organizations beside me. It's nice to talk about this important issue.
Within the presentation and the document we sent out, we provided three recommendations for action. I heard Mr. Shipley ask the previous witnesses what they would do or what would they recommend us doing, and we are definitely making three key recommendations.
Public trust in any sector is crucial. Consumers are motivated by different factors, such as price, availability of product, appearance, etc., but trust is essential to developing and maintaining a good rapport between the whole production and distribution chain on one side and the public on the other.
We have seen the importance of maintaining public trust in the debate on vaccination. Leaders in agri-food research identified public trust as the most important issue facing agriculture. As consumers embrace a notion of what farming used to be, they seem to lack trust in technological and scientific advances related to agri-food. They trust the farmer selling products at the local farmers' market, but would frown upon the notion that researchers have been involved in almost everything related to what the farmer is selling, from plant breeding to pesticide use to the type of packaging, etc. They trust the image of the farmer on his horse looking at his cattle, but occasionally will question beef sold in grocery stores.
Why is that? Why are we facing those issues?
The first factor is probably the lack of understanding of what farming is. It's been raised by my colleague just before. It's been raised in most of the presentations that you've heard on the issue. In 1920, when our organization was created, agriculture was a main source of employment. Canada's population had a greater proportion of people living in rural areas than in cities. This meant that the agri-food production and distribution chain was better understood and accepted.
The second factor is the reliability of information that consumers consult on agri-food. It is fairly common to see self-appointed so-called experts making ill-informed and/or false pronouncements about farming and food. The propagation of false information on social media and even mainstream media, as you've also heard, is a key issue for us.
Then there is the perceived lack of transparency related to scientific advances in agri-food. Progress is poorly explained, and due to this, is often rejected. This is despite the federal government and industry associations investing millions of dollars on various programs such as farm food safety, other food safety programs and quality assurance programs, some of which you've already heard about. While this money has been invested, there is still mistrust.
One of the key issues that we've identified is the fact that there is no single trusted source of reliable information on scientific advances in agri-food. You've heard about the fact that actors with absolutely no background are often more trusted than scientists. Why is that? This is a key issue. Well, consumers don't know where to turn. They have no information on who to approach for real information. This is why AIC's first concrete recommendation is that we should expand the mandate of the chief science advisor and provide that office more resources. The intent would be to have that office help break down misconceptions and promote made-in-Canada agri-food innovation.
I would like to quote Dr. Mona Nemer, Canada's chief science advisor, in her 2018 report, which was tabled last week, I believe. She said, “Communication of science is vital to ensuring an informed citizenry and healthy and engaged society.” She places a good part of the responsibility on science communicators, and we agree.
AIC held a conference three years ago on the effective dissemination of agri-food research. As a result, we produced a tool for researchers to disseminate their research, but the onus should not be left solely on the doorstep of science communicators. We also think it is incumbent on the federal government to take a key role in this process. We believe that this should be done through the expanded mandate and office of the chief science advisor.
Our second recommendation is that the federal government should play a role in promoting cohesive dialogue and information sharing within and between agri-food sectors. Knowledge transfer on scientific advances, best practices, etc., would help create a stronger agri-food sector. A stronger agri-food sector, more recognized, more visible, would gain more trust in the public.
Finally, our third recommendation is that the federal government help to incentivize initiatives that help Canadians connect with and further their understanding of our agri-food. This could be done through urban farming initiatives by local movements, the farmers' markets and even initiatives such as Agriculture in the Classroom—note the discussion before this presentation.
With a stronger connection, there will be a stronger public trust, and the public trust is what we're trying to either gain or maintain. We think this is really important.