Evidence of meeting #135 for Agriculture and Agri-Food in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was organic.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Louise Vandelac  Director, Full Professor, Université du Québec à Montréal, Collectif de recherche écosanté sur les pesticides, les politiques et les alternatives
Thibault Rehn  Coordinator, Vigilance OGM
Tia Loftsgard  Executive Director, Canada Organic Trade Association
Tyler Levitan  Manager, Government Relations and Regulatory Affairs, Canada Organic Trade Association
Lucy Sharratt  Coordinator, Canadian Biotechnology Action Network
Gary Hazlewood  Executive Director, Canada Mink Breeders Association
Jason McLinton  Vice-President, Grocery Division and Regulatory Affairs, Retail Council of Canada
Tom McLellan  Former Vice-President, Canada Mink Breeders Association
Pierre Labonté  Board Member, Canada Mink Breeders Association

April 4th, 2019 / 11 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Welcome to the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food.

Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), our study focuses on the perception of and public trust in the Canadian agricultural sector.

Joining us this morning is Tia Loftsgard, Executive Director of the Canada Organic Trade Association.

Welcome again to our committee, Tia.

Also joining us from the same association is Tyler Levitan, Manager of Government Relations and Regulatory Affairs.

Welcome, Tyler, to our committee.

We also have Louise Vandelac, from the Collectif de recherche écosanté sur les pesticides, les politiques et les alternatives, UQAM.

Can you hear me, Ms. Vandelac?

11 a.m.

Louise Vandelac Director, Full Professor, Université du Québec à Montréal, Collectif de recherche écosanté sur les pesticides, les politiques et les alternatives

I can hear you very well, Mr. Chair.

11 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Welcome to our committee this morning.

We also have Thibault Rehn, Coordinator at Vigilance OGM.

Mr. Thibault, can you hear me?

11 a.m.

Thibault Rehn Coordinator, Vigilance OGM

Yes, loud and clear.

11 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Your first name is Thibault, right?

11 a.m.

Coordinator, Vigilance OGM

Thibault Rehn

Thibault is my first name and my last name is Rehn.

11 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Everyone's here.

You each have six minutes.

Go ahead, Ms. Loftsgard.

11 a.m.

Tia Loftsgard Executive Director, Canada Organic Trade Association

Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you this morning. My name is Tia Loftsgard, and I am the Executive Director of the Canada Organic Trade Association.

Our membership is national and consists of organic stakeholders from across the value chain, representing everyone from farmers to retailers selling organic products, as well the provincial farmer associations. In addition to the regulatory and trade development work that we do, we also lead on consumer education campaigns about organics at the national level and media relations and research for the organic sector.

We felt it was super important for us to inform the committee today about the issue of public trust as it relates to the organic sector, as the degree of public trust in the Canada organic brand is regarded worldwide with respect and is trusted by Canadians for what it delivers.

The Canada organic logo is owned by the Canadian government, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and was launched in 2009 when the Canada organic regime came into force as part of the Canada Agricultural Products Act. The logo appears on certified organic products originating from Canada and abroad that comply with the Canadian organic standards or equivalent, as recognized through equivalency arrangements.

The organic logo symbolizes a system of strict rules that must be followed and verified by third parties, designated and overseen by the CFIA. lt symbolizes a process that's overseen closely by the federal government, and which is enforced under the banner of a government-owned brand and standard.

We believe it is through this system of checks and balances, in which third party certification is obtained and regulated under the auspices of CFIA, that the organic sector has been able to achieve such a high level of public trust. Adherence to internationally respected systems such as Codex Alimentarius, 1S017065 and 1S017011 are all built into the Canada organic regime.

When Canadians see the Canada organic logo, they associate it with traceability; clear standards of production; animal welfare and a clean ingredient list as preservatives, hormones, synthetic pesticides and GMOs are not permitted in organic. As previously mentioned, the Canada organic logo was only Iaunched in 2009 by the Canadian government and already we have a familiarity level of the logo at 66% of Canadians, and 48% of Canadians trust the logo to deliver on what it represents. This is the result of Ipsos' polling conducted in 2017 and highlights the trajectory of growing public trust in organic, as trust grew nine points in only one year.

According to a recent study commissioned by the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity, which analyzed the social media posts of millions of Canadians, 92% of Canadians support organic farming. This was found to be consistent across all age groups. The same study found that half of Canadians oppose the use of glyphosate and 60% believe that GMOs in food are bad.

From our perspective, the most beneficial aspect of organics in garnering public trust and support is the issue of transparency and traceability. The organic label comes backed with a fully transparent system of production behind it, and clear regulations and labelling that ensure that this system of production is verified through strict government oversight, which builds consumer confidence.

Ultimately, this is translating to sales as now two-thirds of Canadians are purchasing organic products weekly, regardless of their income bracket and regardless of the province they live in. The Canadian organic market is now the sixth largest organic market in the world, and in 2017, it was valued at $5.4 billion in sales. The demand for organic continues to grow not only in sales, but also in farmers converting to organic across this country; 3.2 million acres were farmed organically In 2017. This number only includes those that are organically certified.

While the total amount of conventionally farmed acres declined by 1% in 2017, organic farms grew in Canada by 4%. Based on 2017 statistics, there are now 6,365 organic businesses in Canada, with 4,800 of them being organic farmers—this was a 13% increase over the prior year—and the remaining 1,865 are organic food processors. We gained 100 in one year. Canada cannot keep up with the demand for organic products for export or domestic markets, indicating a huge opportunity for Canadian businesses to start to meet consumer demands in a sector that has already cultivated the public trust of Canadians and our export markets.

lt's important to consider the changing views of consumers toward Canada's food system and respecting their demand for products that are more sustainable, transparent and backed by strong standards that they can get behind. According to a 2018 study by Technomic, 41% of Canadians who buy organic breads, grains or cereals do so to reduce exposure to pesticide residues in their diet, and 40% purchase these organic products to avoid GMO food.

Forty-two per cent of Canadians who buy organic meat do so to avoid the routine use of antibiotics or hormones in livestock, and 23% of these buy products to guarantee livestock animals have access to the outdoors when possible.

The rapid speed at which this organic sector is growing is in response to the growing demand for food deemed by consumers to be healthy for themselves and the environment and which aligns with their values.

We hope this study by the committee will lead to a reflection on the part of industry and government about the elements needed to cultivate public trust and recognize new consumer demands and preferences. Public trust really can only be gained through openness, transparency and robust science based on independent research.

Thank you very much.

11:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Thank you, Ms. Loftsgard.

We'll now go to Louise Vandelac, who has six minutes for her presentation.

11:05 a.m.

Director, Full Professor, Université du Québec à Montréal, Collectif de recherche écosanté sur les pesticides, les politiques et les alternatives

Louise Vandelac

Thank you very much.

Let me first introduce myself. My name is Louise Vandelac and I am the Director of the Collectif de recherche écosanté sur les pesticides, les politiques et les alternatives. This collective brings together about 20 researchers from all walks of life working on issues related to agriculture, food, health, the environment, public policy, research ethics and the review of public evaluation mechanisms. Our large team includes biologists, toxicologists, ecotoxicologists, doctors, agronomists and sociologists, among others. I am also a full professor in the Department of Sociology and the Institute of Environmental Sciences at UQAM.

I would like to thank the members of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food for inviting me to discuss the perception of and the public trust in the agricultural sector, particularly in order to examine the challenges and opportunities in the agricultural sector, to open dialogue among farmers and to discuss another issue that is clearly at the heart of the debate—the measures taken and to be taken by industry and government to improve public trust.

As the saying goes, “if it ain't broken, don't fix it”. In other words, what is no longer working and needs fixing? Is this the result of the perception that there is a great deal of public unease about agriculture and that public trust is being undermined or even eroded?

I will speak very quickly, in a few [Technical difficulty—Editor], about which a French report has been submitted to the Prime Minister of France. The report is entitled “the impact of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between the European Union and Canada on the environment, climate and health”. The report points out that environmental protection is not yet at the heart of Canadian agricultural policy and that our environmental requirements remain far less stringent than those in force in the European Union. In terms of pesticides, in particular, Canada still allows 46 active substances that have been banned for a long time in other countries.

I will focus on the issue of glyphosate-based herbicides. It is the most widely used pesticide in the world, with applications of more than 800,000 tonnes per year. It accounts for 56% of all agricultural pesticides in Canada and 46% in Quebec. It is important to remember that the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer calls glyphosate a probable human carcinogen. Glyphosate-based herbicides are endocrine disruptors and chelators that affect soil and health. They are also patented as antibiotics, but they have suspected effects on the microbiota, and their co-formulants are up to 1,000 times more toxic than glyphosate alone. This toxicity results from the presence not only of polyethoxylated tallow amines (POEA), a surfactant banned in Europe since 2016 but authorized in Canada in concentrations of a maximum of 20% of the overall weight, but also of certain heavy metals such as arsenic, lead or cobalt.

The number of glyphosate applications worldwide is 300 times higher than in 1974, particularly in North America where they have increased significantly since genetically modified organisms were introduced in 1996. GMOs have been designed in particular to be able to absorb glyphosate-based herbicides without dying from them. These herbicides are therefore used at all stages of cultivation and in almost all media, so that they are now omnipresent in water, soil, air and rain. In addition, 30% of foods contain glyphosate residues. Remember that a farmer never uses glyphosate alone, but in commercial formulations made up of about 40% of this herbicide. It is therefore reasonable to believe that the actual overall impact of glyphosate-based herbicides is significantly underestimated.

In the United States today, more than 11,200 people with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma attributed to Roundup, the most infamous glyphosate-based herbicide, have filed lawsuits against the manufacturer Monsanto-Bayer. In the Dewayne Johnson case, before the California courts, the 46-year-old municipal employee and father of three children, who had been responsible for years for applying Roundup in parks and schoolyards and whose body was ravaged by terminal cancer, saw a jury unanimously sentence Monsanto-Bayer to pay him $289 million, which was reduced to $78 million on appeal. Bayer, which was worth 136 billion euros in 2015 and bought Monsanto in the summer of 2018 for 63 billion euros, had the value of its shares plummet to only 52 billion euros, according to an article in Le Monde.

In a second trial that just ended in the U.S. Federal Court last week, the jury unanimously sentenced Monsanto-Bayer to pay $80 million to 70-year-old Edwin Hardeman, who had used Roundup in his own garden.

In fact, not only is the product a hazard for professional and domestic use, but the use of truncated, misleading and manipulated information, as well as the undue influence of firms in connection with the research [Technical difficulty—Editor] is also a problem. The thousands of Monsanto internal documents declassified as part of these trials are available on the U.S. Right to Know website.

These issues are very important because they have to do with the manipulation of scientific data. Let me quote a very short excerpt—

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Ms. Vandelac, I have to interrupt you because we're over the six minutes you had. However, you will probably have the opportunity to tell us more about it by answering the questions that follow.

We'll now go to Thibault Rehn for six minutes.

11:10 a.m.

Coordinator, Vigilance OGM

Thibault Rehn

Thank you.

First, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today.

I speak on behalf of Vigilance OGM, which forms a network of associations and individuals from various backgrounds. So we have farmers, environmentalists, consumers and citizens.

One thing we want to make clear at the outset is that public trust is not a public relations exercise. For too long, the industry has been trying to educate farmers and consumers in its own way through aggressive and unethical communication, as highlighted by UN Special Rapporteur Elver in her last report. According to Ms. Elver, this aggressive and unethical type of communication could well also have an influence on you, members of Parliament, and on your political decisions.

People do not need better education, they need better agriculture and, therefore, better food for themselves and their families. To maintain the full confidence of the constituents you represent, you must improve the transparency of the regulatory system.

The first point of my presentation is entitled: transparency for consumers.

Canada and the United States are the last two so-called industrialized countries that have not yet implemented mandatory labelling of GMOs, while 64 countries around the world have done so. Over the past 20 years, through dozens of surveys, 70% to 90% of Canadians have asked you for mandatory labelling of GMOs.

However, on May 17, 2017—so not long ago—when Bill C-291 was voted on, 76% of MPs voted against introducing mandatory labelling in Canada. Only one person on this committee voted in favour of the bill. So she was the only one who listened to her constituents.

How can this difference be explained? How, in a democracy, do you, as members of Parliament, justify going against the people who elected you?

There is an urgent need for Canada to implement mandatory labelling of GMOs, particularly since our country has become the first and only place in the world where people have consumed a genetically modified animal, salmon.

The second point is entitled: independent and transparent science.

Right now, Health Canada, through its agencies, authorizes GMOs and pesticides based almost exclusively on industry studies that are not accessible to the public or independent scientists. Classified as confidential commercial information, this information is not disclosed. Under these circumstances, the government cannot announce that its regulatory system for GMOs and pesticides is science-based, if the science is not transparent and peer-reviewed.

This lack of transparency undermines public confidence in our agri-food and legislative system. The law-makers must prioritize science and put the interests of the people before those of a handful of multinationals. Without a transparent regulatory system, public trust is a lost cause from the outset.

It is your duty as members of Parliament to ensure that the process becomes more, not less, transparent, as the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) seems to want.

The third point is entitled: do not let farmers down.

In May 2018, Canada's Competition Bureau approved the merger between Bayer and Monsanto. This merger means that four multinationals now control the majority of the world's seed and pesticide market. This quasi-monopoly of this group of companies undermines the autonomy of farmers and their finances. The effect of monopolies is well documented: fewer choices and higher prices. This has been the case in Canada for a number of years now, in terms of seed selection and input prices in the agricultural sector.

It is therefore important that the government reinvest massively in independent agricultural research and development for the benefit of farmers across Canada. We also invite you to consult them when new GMOs are marketed. Despite the opposition of many Canadian farmers' groups to genetically modified alfalfa, including the Union des producteurs agricoles au Québec, the government finally approved it in 2017.

The fourth point is: stop funding lobbyists.

Last week, an article in the National Observer informed us that the documentary series Real Farm Lives was actually a public relations campaign on the part of pesticide vendors. Under the guise of neutrality, this series was in fact carefully developed by an international marketing and public relations agency for Canadian agri-chemical manufacturers. The industry has been developing those sorts of initiatives for a number of years because it can no longer get its misleading messages across to the public.

One of the best known marketing and public relations campaigns is the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity (CFIC).

The home page states, “The Canadian Centre for Food Integrity (CCFI) helps our food system ensure it is doing the right things to build trust by providing research, resources, training and dialogue”.

However, on closer examination, this integrity centre is largely funded by pesticide producers and sellers: Monsanto, Syngenta and Dow Chemical, to name a few.

In 2017, the CCFI received $90,000 in public funds, and the Canada Revenue Agency granted it a charitable number. Is it a charity to want to sell as many pesticides as possible? We find this outrageous.

Is the government funding tobacco companies to make us believe that smoking isn't dangerous? So why fund pesticide manufacturers who try to make us believe that eating dozens of pesticide residues every day isn't dangerous?

In conclusion, the solution to this crisis of confidence in our agri-food system is simple: transparency. However, it requires a strong political will to deal with agrochemical lobbyists. This desire seems to have eluded the Canadian government for too many years. It is up to you to change course.

The Canadian agri-food system will never have the confidence of the public and citizens if you don't impose transparency in regulation, traceability and research for the public good and farmers in this country.

Thank you for your attention, and I am ready to answer your questions.

11:20 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Thank you, Mr. Rehn.

Now we'll go to the question round with Mr. Dreeshen for six minutes.

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Earl Dreeshen Conservative Red Deer—Mountain View, AB

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

As we are talking about perception and public trust in the Canadian agricultural sector, just to let our witnesses know, this came out of discussion on the mental health study we did. Many farmers in Quebec, and all around Canada, were speaking to us about the attacks on their industry, because of social activists out there attempting to destroy their way of life. They are speaking about animal welfare. They don't understand how animals are being dealt with. Look at false claims about the hormone, for example, from A&W—going from five nanograms of estrogen to seven, when you have an animal treated, versus the 10,000 nanograms that are in the bun.

All of these types of things are true statements, but they are being expanded in a way that creates fear in the public. We hear from farmers in Quebec and around the country that there are people and groups out there demeaning their life and their activities. It is very difficult for them.

We have seen issues with the neoniconoids, where people would stand up and say that this is such a disaster that they would be there. It is actually the product that is used on canola. If you want to know where the bees are going to go in Alberta, it is going to be beside the canola crops, because that is what has kept that industry alive.

On the concept of GMOs, similarly, we look at an opportunity to feed the world. That is what Canadians are known for. Our food security and our food safety system are among the strongest that there are.

The statements on glyphosate are, to me, unrealistic. This is a product that, as a farmer, I have been using for decades. I understand how to use it, and how to use it properly, and I recognize things that are happening around the world. We hear from CFIA and so on that there are no problems with it. The statements made against it are difficult for the farmers to hear, because of the need for it. The statements are blatantly false.

That is what courts are for and that, of course, is why, as long as you have two lawyers in the room, there is always a case to be made. Yes, there are farmers who are concerned about the perception and public trust. These are the kinds of things that are being said.

I appreciate the fact that there are groups prepared to put this on the table, and to deal with it, because there are farmers who are hurting. There is a great organic industry that has an opportunity to do well, but to then demonize.... I am not suggesting that the organic community is doing it, but to allow that demonization of Canadian agriculture.... I hope we can work together with the organic industry, rather than allowing people to pile on, and make statements that cause even more problems, as far as agriculture is concerned.

With that, Mr. Chair, I would like us to return to the notice of motion that was presented. There is something else affecting Canadians right now, and it has to do with the Canada-China relationship, as far as our canola is concerned. The committee will meet on Tuesday, April 9, 2019, to hear directly from farmers affected by China's decision to cease its purchases of Canadian canola.

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Thank you, Mr. Dreeshen.

Monsieur Drouin.

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Francis Drouin Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

We just want to say that we heard from industry representatives at the last meeting, and I think it's important to hear directly from farmers. We will be supporting this motion.

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Mr. Dreeshen.

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Earl Dreeshen Conservative Red Deer—Mountain View, AB

I'll restate the longer form of this from Mr. Berthold:

That the Committee continue to hear from witnesses on the Study of the official notices of non-compliance from China for exports of Canadian canola seeds; that the next meeting be held as soon as possible; that witnesses at this meeting be farmers and producers directly impacted by the consequences of China's decision to cease buying Canadian Canola; and that the Committee report its findings to the House.

(Motion agreed to)

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Thank you, Mr. Dreeshen. You can return and you have two minutes.

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Earl Dreeshen Conservative Red Deer—Mountain View, AB

Thank you.

I'd like to speak to the organic industry because I have many organic farmers in my riding. Many great friends of mine are involved in it. They also stand up for their neighbours. How closely are you working to make sure that all agriculture is being advocated for?

11:25 a.m.

Executive Director, Canada Organic Trade Association

Tia Loftsgard

I can tell you that in the organic sector in 1989, I believe there were only 600 organic farms. Now it's very high; I've told you the numbers. The approach from the organic sector is that every farmer out there is a potential organic farmer. The more that we can all work together on improving soil health, and looking at climate mitigation techniques, etc....

Programs exist in regard to doing extension services. It is a recommendation that we have to the federal government. We do not have enough agricultural extension services available to be able to help farmers know how to do proper soil health. We've done testimonies on this topic before. I think it's really important that there is a plan in place so that we can break down those barriers. Nobody likes this “us and them” of conventional versus organic. That is not at all what people want to see happening. We're really interested in full-on sustainability across all Canadian agriculture. Whether you're certified organic or not, we just want to see everybody move towards more sustainable organic production.

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Earl Dreeshen Conservative Red Deer—Mountain View, AB

When you make a statement such as “if we do organic we're following climate mitigation” and “we speak about farmers not understanding soil health, so therefore we would like to include them more in that”, do you not see that, by taking that particular approach that there are those who...?

I farmed for 50 years and there's nothing more important to me than the health of the land that I have and my family and everyone who is associated with that. We've done the zero till, the min till and all of those types of things. We're looking at new ways for technology, so that any chemical that is being put onto a plant is going directly onto the plant that is—

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Mr. Dreeshen, you've run out of time. Perhaps somebody can follow up on what you were saying.

Thank you, Mr. Dreeshen.

Mr. Drouin, you now have the floor for six minutes.

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Francis Drouin Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

My thanks to the witnesses before us today.

I will start with the folks from the Organic Trade Association.

I know public trust is a major issue for Canadians when defining what is organic. Does your association work with consumers in terms of understanding what it means when Canadians say they're buying organic and what they actually think they're buying?

11:30 a.m.

Executive Director, Canada Organic Trade Association

Tia Loftsgard

There are a couple of different national associations that work on this, such as the Canadian Organic Growers, as well as ourselves. There are all of the regional provincial associations. Each province has an association, and UPA has a specialist on organic. We, as an industry, are doing public education campaigns in order to deepen the knowledge of exactly what is organic, not only for consumers, but for producers and businesses, so that there can be correct messaging. When we see that there are incorrect claims or over-claims by organic stakeholders, we also correct that. When we see things come out in the media that are alarmist or incorrect, we are the first ones to step in on that.