Evidence of meeting #67 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 consumers.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Clerk of the Committee  Mr. Marc-Olivier Girard
Scott Ross  Director of Business Risk Management and Farm Policy, Canadian Federation of Agriculture
Dale Adolphe  Interim Executive Director, Soy Canada
Chris Masciotra  Director, Corporate Affairs, Soy Canada
Jean-Charles Le Vallée  Associate Director, Food Horizons Canada, The Conference Board of Canada
Dan Darling  President, Canadian Cattlemen's Association
Ashley St Hilaire  Director, Programs and Government Relations, Canadian Organic Growers
Jim Robbins  President, Organic Federation of Canada, Canadian Organic Growers
Brady Stadnicki  Policy Analyst, Canadian Cattlemen's Association

3:35 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

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

I would especially like to welcome the new members of the committee. They are Luc Berthold, John Barlow, Sylvie Boucher and Eva Nassif. Greetings also to Karine Trudel, who is replacing Ruth Ellen Brosseau today.

And welcome back to those who have been members of the committee before.

I'm looking forward to a great fall session. We'll start immediately, because we have to replace the vice-chair. By the way, we also have a new clerk, Marc-Olivier, and we're really happy to have him here. He has some good experience, and I'm sure he'll help us do a great job here.


3:35 p.m.

The Clerk of the Committee Mr. Marc-Olivier Girard

We have the election of the first vice-chair for the committee because the position is now vacant. I'm now prepared to receive motions for the election of the first vice-chair.

Are there any propositions?

Madame Boucher.

3:35 p.m.


Sylvie Boucher Conservative Beauport—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île d’Orléans—Charlevoix, QC

I would like to nominate Luc Berthold as vice-chair.

3:35 p.m.

The Clerk

It is moved by Mrs. Boucher that Mr. Berthold be elected vice-chair of the committee.

(Motion agreed to)

3:35 p.m.

The Clerk

I declare the motion carried and Mr. Berthold duly elected as first vice-chair of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-food.

3:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear!

3:35 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

For the benefit of the new members of the committee, let me remind you that our most recent project is the study of a food policy for Canada.

Today, we will be hearing from witnesses who will share with us what they would like to see in that study.

First of all, we welcome Scott Ross.

He is with the Canadian Federation of Agriculture.

Bonjour, Mr. Ross.

From Soy Canada we have Dale Adolphe, interim executive director, and Mr. Chris Masciotra, director, corporate affairs.


From the Conference Board of Canada, we have Jean-Charles Le Vallée, Associate Director, Food Horizons Canada.

Welcome, everyone. Thank you for being here today.

We will begin by going around the table, with seven minutes per witness.

Mr. Ross, the floor is yours.

3:35 p.m.

Scott Ross Director of Business Risk Management and Farm Policy, Canadian Federation of Agriculture

Thank you, Mr. Chair and committee members, for the opportunity to provide a brief overview of CFA's vision for an effective and successful food policy for Canada.

As you are likely well aware, we've advocated for a national food strategy for a number of years now, and we're very pleased to see this discussion unfolding as it is today.

To begin, I want to briefly read a quote from the CFA's earlier work on a national food strategy. I've included it because I believe it captures the essence of why CFA and its members believe a food strategy or policy is required.

Few Canadians give their daily food a lot of thought. Our abundance has allowed this luxury for many, but not all Canadians. Few Canadians understand what goes into bringing food to our plates and how the choices we make at the grocery store affect our food chain and our health.

Perhaps because of our abundance we have not, as a nation, comprehensively planned to ensure an adequate and wholesome food supply for future generations.

This quote speaks to the growing disconnect between the average Canadian and where their food comes from.

To maintain this abundance and capitalize on our sector's immense potential, we need a strategy that increases the understanding of people in Canada as to how their food reaches their plates, while laying out a comprehensive plan to move the sector forward. On that note, I want to commend the federal government on moving forward with a food policy for Canada and the discussions we're having today.

While we've long advocated for a national food strategy rather than a policy, the label isn't what's important. Whether it's a strategy or a policy, we see a few critical elements to successful implementation.

First, a food policy must bring together stakeholders to address emerging concerns around a common vision.

Second, it must provide a framework enabling all orders of government, departments, and stakeholders to align. This is critical. We continue to see misalignment between policy initiatives, with the agrifood growth targets being the most recent example, where subsequent initiatives, like the current suite of proposed tax reforms or proposed front-of-package warnings on food, would impose new costs and uncertainty that would seemingly undermine the industry's capacity to grow.

Third, a food policy must be grounded in clear, science-based objectives that allow for key metrics, benchmarking, and defined progress.

To achieve these outcomes, we believe that the policy must first focus on creating a common understanding that bridges that divide between expectations of the Canadian public and modern food production practices. Without this basic understanding, any policy will repeatedly push up against misunderstanding, division, and misalignment.

A starting point can be found in the consensus that exists between the previous Canadian food policy proposals put forward by CFA, CAPI, the Conference Board, and Food Secure Canada. These were developed through extensive, wide-ranging consultations that brought together diverse stakeholders. While they differ in a number of areas, they also have significant common ground upon which a food policy can build. For example, all these proposals speak to the need for a whole-of-government approach to get at the silos we all face when dealing with food-related issues. Silos between different departments, orders of government, or within the value chain result in duplication, contradictions, and unintended consequences.

Developing a food policy presents a means of better understanding various viewpoints, cumulative impacts and synergies, and an opportunity to promote more comprehensive, coordinated, and informed action on the part of all stakeholders.

The Barton report and the 2017 federal budget highlight the importance of this approach, noting the value that a whole-of-government approach provides. By focusing on obstacles to growth that span multiple policy areas, this approach looks to align decision-makers around solutions. This agenda's momentum presents a foundation upon which a food policy can build by providing a long-term forum for the cross-sector relationships needed to truly realize this vision and address issues that span any single policy domain.

In order to move from a vision to measurable success, CFA has outlined four key recommendations with regard to governance of a national food policy.

First is a whole-of-government approach. While we support Agriculture Canada's continued leadership in this initiative, this policy must be made explicit in all departmental mandates to ensure accountability and continued engagement.

Second, it can't be limited to the federal government and must engage and align all orders of government to address issues that span any one jurisdiction.

Third, industry leadership is critical. A successful food policy requires buy-in. If this is to be possible, it requires contributing to the vision and strategy required to get there from the outset.

Fourth, it needs clearly agreed to roles and responsibilities. These are essential. This not only ensures accountability and coordination, but it also directs stakeholders and their resources to appropriate priorities. Access to affordable food is a prime example.

Farmers play an important but limited role, and that is efficiently producing food on an affordable basis. By acknowledging our strength in producing affordable food, the policy can focus on socio-economic policies while ensuring they don't undermine the affordability and sustainability of Canada's food production.

When it comes to where to start, CFA has identified three key recommendations as well. First, a national food policy can easily be bogged down with complexity and competing priorities. We continue to advocate that the strategy must begin with those areas where there's already common ground. By building on the existing work already done by CFA and others as a starting point for early action, we can reach this common ground as a starting point to build upon.

Second, in terms of moving from policy to action, data is critical. By first collecting and looking at data within a single framework, the policy can establish a foundation to convert desired outcomes and to clear actions based on science-based metrics and targets.

Third and finally, we can all point to areas where silos lead to seemingly contradictory policies. This policy can bring together the necessary actors to understand and address those contradictions before they become reality.

While much work is still to be done, the CFA believes these critical guiding principles are essential to an effective national food policy.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to any questions you might have.

3:40 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Thank you, Mr. Ross.

Soy Canada, I don't know which one wants to go first. Go ahead.

3:40 p.m.

Dale Adolphe Interim Executive Director, Soy Canada

Good afternoon everyone. Thank you for the invitation to share our perspective on the development of a food policy for Canada. We always welcome the opportunity. Your chair has already introduced me as Dale Adolphe. I'm the interim executive director of Soy Canada, and Chris Masciotra is Soy Canada's director of corporate affairs.

I'm going to start by providing a bit of an update on the growth of the Canadian soybean sector before discussing our recommendations related to a national food policy.

Soybeans are new to parts of Canada, particularly western Canada, and Soy Canada is relatively new, in that we're only three years old. Our members include producer associations representing farmers from across the country, seed development companies, soybean exporters and processors.

Our goal as Soy Canada is to unite the soybean sector, facilitate co-operation, and represent the industry on domestic and international issues surrounding market access, trade, market development, and research.

The Canadian soybean sector is currently experiencing what could be called explosive growth. This year our industry has reached new heights, with all segments of the industry seeing strong growth and development.

In 2017, seeded acreage increased by a third over last year to 7.3 million acres. Production is set to climb by 20% over the same period to 7.7 million tonnes. Much of this growth, as I mentioned, is taking place in western Canada where production has more than doubled in the last 12 years.

In 2016, farm cash receipts from soybean production rose to $2.9 billion, an increase of 20% from the year before, and exports of soybeans and soybean products continue to trend upward. In 2016, exports reached 4.84 million tonnes at a value of just under $3 billion.

We are now in our 10th consecutive year of growth, and more and more producers are turning to soybeans as a reliable and profitable commodity to include in their crop rotations. Today, more than 31,000 Canadian farmers are growing soybeans, and that's up about 16% over the last five years.

Now I will turn it over to Chris.

3:45 p.m.

Chris Masciotra Director, Corporate Affairs, Soy Canada

Thanks, Dale.

Soy Canada welcomes the Government of Canada's work towards the development of a food policy designed to provide consumer guidance and address issues related to the production, processing, distribution, and consumption of food.

From our perspective, a national food policy must include a strong agriculture presence. An effective policy will outline the conditions that will allow the Canadian agriculture sector to thrive and build on the expansive growth forecasted by the Prime Minister's Advisory Council on Economic Growth. This should include a focus on overcoming market access and regulatory hurdles to enable more production and exports, calling for increased processing capabilities for high-growth commodities like soybeans, and increasing marketing support for shippers.

A national policy must promote science-based decision-making, the harmonization of international standards, and the liberalization of trade through tariff reduction and other non-tariff barrier obstacles. These are some of the key ingredients to developing a meaningful policy that meets the needs of consumers and industry stakeholders.

We've seen these priorities built into the national food policies of other like-minded countries. Australia's national food plan contains chapters dedicated to capitalizing on opportunities, addressing business and regulatory challenges, growing agriculture exports, promoting healthy food consumption, and food sustainability. Similarly, the United Kingdom's strategy rallies support behind enhancing competitiveness, promoting free trade, and improving transportation infrastructure, benefiting all members of the supply chain.

These strategies are good models for the Government of Canada to draw from as it develops a domestic policy. They focus on issues beyond identifying the nutritional value of food and delve into the complex policies that impact all members of the agriculture value chain. Just to underscore the importance of trade-friendly food policies, international food trade now accounts for 23% of global food production.

A national food policy should also underscore industry and government efforts towards food safety in Canada. Quality assurance standards put in place by our industry are world-class and recognized internationally as the gold standard in food quality and safety. For example, soybeans produced for food consumption in Canada undergo robust private and government certification systems that trace the production and supply of identity-preserved soybeans. The Canadian identity preserved recognition system, or CIPRS, is a grain traceability standard administered by the Canadian Grain Commission and audited by third parties to ensure CIPRS-certified grain shipments are pure and adhere to the highest food quality and safety standards.

Similarly, seed developers work with Canadian regulators, such as the Pest Management Regulatory Agency, when establishing residue limits on crop protection products. The processes for establishing these limits are extremely robust. They are science-based and have multiple built-in safety factors that enhance food safety when products are brought to market. Consumers need to be made aware of these practices through a national food policy that educates Canadians on the high level of safety and care that goes into food production and handling.

It is about excellence, transparency, speed, continuous improvement, and least cost. It's about providing Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency with a world-class foundation to continuously improve their performance and process standards, policies, and resource allocations for the benefit of consumers, businesses, and the taxpayer.

Finally, a Canadian food policy should feature a healthy foods section that focuses on the nutritional value of agrifood products. It is extremely important for a food policy to highlight the health benefits of agrifood products grown right here at home. Canadian soybeans and processed soy oils are well positioned to serve as strong examples of locally grown grains with tremendous health advantages.

Consider that in 2015 Health Canada approved a health claim linking the consumption of protein-rich soy food to lowering cholesterol levels. Scientific studies behind the claim show that consuming 25 grams of soy protein per day helps reduce both cholesterol and the risk of heart disease.

We are seeing other countries come to the same conclusion, linking soybean consumption to a reduction in the risk of coronary heart disease. Just last month the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a similar health claim on soy oil food labels in the U.S. In Canada, the health benefits of consuming soy oil in a country where soybeans are one of the fastest-expanding crops is a net positive story for Canadians and one that could be featured as a success story in the upcoming food policy.

I'll pass it back to Dale.

3:50 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

If you could wrap up, we're past time.

3:50 p.m.

Interim Executive Director, Soy Canada

Dale Adolphe

I'll quickly wrap up.

The policy cannot remain silent on important agricultural issues such as market development and market access. It must also take care to demonstrate the agriculture industry's commitment to food safety and quality assurance. Food safety is not just about consumer protection, it's also about enhancing the competitiveness of the Canadian food chain.

We strongly believe a national food policy must facilitate the growth of crop sectors like soybeans, and the grains and oilseeds industry in Canada, and we look forward to working with the Government of Canada as it develops this strategy.

The health, safety, and economic well-being of Canadians is greatly determined by the integrity of the ecosystem, the natural resources, and infrastructure that we share, which is climate, airsheds, fresh water, natural landscapes, fisheries, agrifood systems, and the transportation, telecommunication, and energy networks.

Thank you.

3:50 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Thank you, Mr. Adolphe and Mr. Masciotra.

We now move to Jean-Charles Le Vallée, from the Conference Board of Canada.

Mr. Le Vallée, you have seven minutes.

3:50 p.m.

Jean-Charles Le Vallée Associate Director, Food Horizons Canada, The Conference Board of Canada

Thank you.

My name is Jean-Charles Le Vallée.

I'm with the centre for food. Some people might remember we worked for four years on developing a food strategy for the country. I have a copy here, which I'll pass on to Mr. Poissant when we're done. I'll refer to it as we go along.

The policy is a fantastic initiative. Our thanks for inviting us to the standing committee.

3:50 p.m.


Luc Berthold Conservative Mégantic—L'Érable, QC

If possible, could you send a copy to all members of the committee, not just to the parliamentary secretary?

3:50 p.m.

Associate Director, Food Horizons Canada, The Conference Board of Canada

Jean-Charles Le Vallée

I will send an electronic version to the clerk.

3:50 p.m.


Luc Berthold Conservative Mégantic—L'Érable, QC

Great, thank you.

3:50 p.m.

Associate Director, Food Horizons Canada, The Conference Board of Canada

Jean-Charles Le Vallée

Food is horizontal. It needs a full supply chain view. You've heard from primary agriculture, but really, before agriculture, there are inputs. There are land issues, credit issues, which are not always easy to access. There are pesticides, fertilizers, chemicals, or organic matter. There are lots of inputs. Labour is an input. In Canada, we just finished a study. The current labour gap in agriculture is 58,000 workers. It will grow to 114,000 workers by 2025. We are using many temporary foreign workers, but that's all part of the input to primary agriculture.

You then have many, many products, and you have a great policy for growth in that, and the value-added is fantastic. In trade as well, you're going to $75 billion by 2025. That's amazing. The world needs more of Canada, and we can supply more food. The world population will grow to 8.3 billion by 2030, maybe 9.7 billion by 2050. Canada will grow to maybe 55 million. The world will grow much more than Canada, so we can feed more of the world, rather than internally. That doesn't mean we can't do more locally, or shift from imports—substitution, for instance—to grow those regional economies. There's more trade in Canada than outside Canada in some instances. It's fascinating.

You go along the supply chain, and you get processing as a leading sector, more than automobile in Ontario, for instance. You have retailing, food services, and the consumer. You have this whole supply chain view, which this national food policy must look at. The mandate is an initial mandate; that's how we see it. It was a few words put together right after the election, so we need to add to that, and we need to grow that mandate beyond the wording that's in there now. For instance, it doesn't say “fishers”. It says, “ranchers and farmers”. It's forgetting the sea. That's part of a national food policy too. Canadians tend not to eat very much fish. It's been stable for 30 years. Recommendations in the guidelines are two portions per week. Right now, we're at one portion per 10 days.

It's the same thing with fruits and vegetables. We recommend eight per day. We don't even measure that at Statistics Canada; we measure five a day. The consumption is that about 30% to 40%, to 50% in some cases—women more than men—match the five a day, which is great, but we need to do more.

On industry, you have issues relevant to legislation. For instance, on the fisheries side, there's no aquaculture act. We can do more there. On the Food and Drugs Act, we can get rid of drugs but stick to food. On regulations, we tend to add regulations instead of cleaning the system up. There are ways we can improve our regulatory system and standards.

On food safety, we do really well. I led a report with Sylvain Charlebois which compared 17 OECD countries. We came out on top. We're number one in the world. That doesn't mean there isn't more we can do. We have four million food-borne illness cases in the country and 240 deaths per year. What else can we say? On food safety, we're behind on traceability compared to the Europeans, for instance. We don't rest on our laurels; we move ahead. There is always more we can do.

We've talked about industry and we've talked about prosperity, so competitiveness. Food policy should address the issues of profitability for farmers along the supply chain, the different businesses, so they remain viable and grow. That's what we want, so they contribute to the economy. In the end, you have issues of demand and supply.

We've spoken a little about the supply side. On the demand side, you have issues about health and well-being. I spoke to you about consumption, but we don't have enough data. The last data we have is from 2004, and before that, it was the 1970s. I would highly recommend we do this every five years. It's something easy we can do, and it doesn't cost that much. Food is a huge determinant of health, and the largest budget item is health care. If we can have a healthier population, then we can reduce the costs of health care. Regarding health or chronic diseases, two-thirds of the population are overweight or obese, we have diabetes issues, and we have people who are anemic, vitamin D deficient, vitamin A deficient. There are some forms of malnutrition in the country. It's quite rare.

What you see more is on the energy side, what you call food insecurity, which is a bit different from food safety. It's about availability of the food supply, responding to food emergencies. You saw a lot of flooding, even in Gatineau. Where we live, we had flooding this year. Suddenly, we had people who were food insecure who never thought about being food insecure. Food emergencies come that way.

Climate change is a food issue also, very, very long term. That can affect the growth of crops and where we grow food in the country going forward 10, 30, or 40 years. We're talking about potential desertification, if we look at certain areas in the Prairies. We have to prepare for that. A food policy can help support that

On the environmental and sustainability side, there are soil quality issues: soil erosion, organic matter issues. You can look at air quality issues—the greenhouse gas issue is a big one, as well as ammonia and particulate matter—or water quality issues, such as nitrogen and phosphorus certification, and runoffs from agriculture. It could be a food waste issue, a very hot topic.

I don't know if you know, but one of the things I do at the Conference Board is develop a food report card—A, B, C, D—of how Canada performs in the world. Then I compare all the provinces. Next year, I'm looking at comparing the cities, and I'm looking for funding for that.

When we compare Canada and the world on food loss and food waste, we are among the most wasteful societies on the planet. We're last. Food loss is before purchase, and food waste is after purchase. Consumers represent half of all the food waste in Canada. We need to do a lot more on tools and engagement with different jurisdictions to raise literacy, and a national food policy can support that. It turns out a lot of Canadians can't read food labels, because they have very low numeracy skills, let alone everything else. They can't do the math.

We did all these reports, which fed into the national strategy, and we came out with 62 recommendations and goals. All of these can be useful in your thinking as you develop a national food policy.

You might consider a national food council that is permanent. I would try to avoid political risk. The examples that were given, the Australian national food plan and U.K.'s food 2030, are great, but as soon as the government changed, they were shelved. I'm hoping that this policy will remain viable irrespective of government change.

Thank you, sir.

3:55 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Thank you very much, Mr. Jean-Charles Le Vallée.

We will now go into our question round.

On the opposition side, we have Mr. Berthold.

Mr. Berthold, you have six minutes.

3:55 p.m.


Luc Berthold Conservative Mégantic—L'Érable, QC

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

First, I would like to thank the witnesses for coming to present to us their various opinions on the food policy. We sensed their great passion for the subject in their presentations.

Mr. Le Vallée, we could sum up the work of the committee by using your document alone. It has 66 recommendations. We could wrap up the study today and we would already have plenty of work.

Before I ask my question, Mr. Chair, allow me to bring up two matters.

As you know, the composition of the committee has changed. On Friday, my colleague Mr. Gourde submitted a motion, of which committee members received a copy. As Mr. Gourde is no longer here, the motion is not valid. So I would like the committee's unanimous consent so that we can study the motion today, given the urgency of the matter and the fact that the Minister of Finance is currently consulting on the tax changes.

Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), the motion reads as follows:

That the Committee immediately undertake a study on the proposed changes to the tax system in order to assess their impacts on small farm businesses, particularly family farms and the inherent risks in the proposals on transfer of ownership; and that the Committee report its findings to the House no later than Friday, December 1, 2017.

I make this recommendation given that there have been changes to the committee. The first version of today's agenda set time aside for the discussion of this motion, but it was withdrawn when the committee members changed. So I am asking my colleagues for permission—

4 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Yes, Mr. Berthold, a motion was submitted. But, as you said, it became invalid because of the changes to the composition of the committee. Without unanimous consent, we will have to wait 48 hours before we can deal with the motion.

Is there unanimous consent for Mr. Berthold to move the motion?

4 p.m.


Francis Drouin Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

No, that would be difficult, because Mr. Gourde is the author of the motion and he is no longer here. If Mr. Berthold wants to submit the motion again, he can do so.

4 p.m.


The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Mr. Berthold, you can submit the motion again. Then, in 48 hours, we will set time aside at the end of the meeting to discuss it.

4 p.m.


Luc Berthold Conservative Mégantic—L'Érable, QC

So, to be clear, the governing party is refusing to give me unanimous consent to discuss the motion I have just read, which is now my motion, not Mr. Gourde's.