Mr. Chair, honourable members, on behalf of the Canadian Seed Trade Association, or CSTA, I'd like to thank the committee for your invitation to discuss our perspective on the food policy for Canada.
Before I make some comments, I'd like to just quickly frame up who we are and what our members are about, to give you the context of what we're speaking about.
CSTA is a not-for-profit, non-partisan, voluntary trade association based here in Ottawa. We have more than 130 company and association members that are engaged in all aspects of seed, from research and development and plant breeding, to production and processing, marketing, distribution, and sales, and the sales are both domestic and international.
Our members serve the needs of their farmer customers by developing seed produced through various production methods, including organic, conventional, and biotechnological. They range from small family-owned businesses to large multinational firms. Our members work with over 50 different crop kinds, ranging from corn, canola, and soybeans, to wheat, barley and oats, forages and grasses, and vegetable and garden seed.
The seed industry contributes about $6 billion to the Canadian economy annually, and employs more than 57,000 Canadians. It exports close to half a billion dollars a year worth of product to more than 70 countries.
Seed may seem at first glance to be far removed from a national food policy, but it's important to remember that seed is the start of it all, the first step in the agriculture and agrifood value chain. Our members are the ones who develop the varieties through breeding programs and produce the seed that is planted across the country. Seed that our members produce becomes the crops that are harvested and processed, and ultimately end up on the grocery store shelves.
According to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, nine out of 10 bites of food start with the planting of seed. Any national food policy must keep in mind where food comes from and take a holistic approach to the entire value-chain process. CSTA therefore views three key components as being critical in the development of a successful and robust food policy.
The first is education. Canadian farmers have done an exceptional job in producing an abundant, affordable, safe, and nutritious food supply, so much so that most Canadians are far removed from primary agriculture and unaware of exactly how food is being produced, and ending up at their local Loblaws or Metro. Food security has never been an issue for most parts of Canada. We are fortunate to be a net exporter of agricultural goods. As such, CSTA views a national food policy as an excellent tool to educate and inform the Canadian public about the agricultural value chain and build an awareness of what it truly takes to feed a growing world.
More education is needed across the country to encourage Canadians to learn where their food comes from, and how nutritious, affordable meals can easily be made. There's also the opportunity to dispel mistruths about modern agriculture and promote the fact that farming has never been more environmentally sustainable.
Second, it requires the whole of government. Food policy cannot be developed in a vacuum. It needs to be developed using the whole-of-government approach that cuts across departments and agencies, and it also takes into account other government initiatives under way.
The federal government currently has several initiatives under way that must be taken into account when designing a food policy. For example, Canada's healthy eating strategy, the proposed safe food for Canadians regulations, and CFIA's plants and animals health strategy. There are a lot of moving parts that must be complementary or the results will be policies and initiatives that are misaligned and/or contradictory. We hope that those leading each of these initiatives are in regular discussions with one another. It is important to ask how a food policy fits with all this other work under way.
We must also ask ourselves how we can design a food policy with the goal of affordable food without addressing regulatory burdens and policy misalignment that impact production costs. How can we expect more from agriculture, and in particular farmers, without removing impediments that stifle growth, let alone adding new ones?
Lastly, a food policy must be grounded in transparent, risk-based science with objectives that are clear, measurable, and reproducible. Sometimes, scientific decisions aren't the popular ones to make, but we must be steadfast. This government has made growing Canada's agrifood industry a key priority, as evidenced by both the Barton report and the subsequent budget that sets out to increase agrifood exports to $75 billion by 2025.
A food policy based solely on affordable food will not help achieve this goal. Again, we need to make sure our policies are aligned and complementary.
As this committee deliberates, I would ask that you keep in mind what the agriculture industry needs to be successful, to thrive, to innovate, and ultimately to produce safe, healthy, and affordable food for Canadians.
The agriculture industry is concerned about is continued access to key crop protection products that they rely on. The Pest Management Regulatory Agency is currently proposing, in some cases, to cancel the registration of products where no viable alternative exists. Crop protection products are critical for food production and growers need these effective tools to continue to provide high quality food in a sustainable production system.
This policy also cannot be developed solely at the federal level; there must be engagement at the provincial level. Whether that's through the FPT process, I leave to you.
For example, in Ontario we have regulations. Quebec is now proposing regulations that would severely restrict growers' access to the use of critical crop-protection products. Alberta has a zero-tolerance policy for fusarium, despite its being widely established across Canada and in Alberta as well. These regulations are not founded in science and they create a patchwork of different provincial rules. Without alignment across the country, we cannot hope to reach the stated goals of a food policy.
In conclusion, CSTA is supportive of the minister's mandate to “Develop a food policy that promotes healthy living and safe food by putting more healthy, high-quality food, produced by Canadian ranchers and farmers, on the tables of families across the country.” However, this policy must have clear priorities, must be easy to administer and oversee, and cannot be weighed down by competing priorities such as wanting farmers to produce more food for less but limiting their access to essential tools to be more productive. The left hand needs to be speaking to the right.
I would welcome any questions that you have today.