Mr. Chair, members of the committee, thank you for giving me the opportunity to discuss a food policy for Canada with you.
I want to begin by saying that the RCC is highly supportive of an overarching food policy to provide direction when developing future Government of Canada policies, programs, and regulations.
I will briefly introduce the Retail Council of Canada, RCC.
In the private sector, the retail industry employs the largest number of people in Canada. More than 2.1 million Canadians work in our industry. In 2016, the sector generated an estimated $73 billion in wages. Furthermore, its sales were $353 billion, without taking into account vehicle and fuel sales. RCC members account for more than two-thirds of retail sales in Canada.
The council is a non-profit organization funded by the industry. It represents small, medium and large retailers in communities across the country. Recognized as the voice of retailers in Quebec and in Canada, RCC represents over 45,000 businesses of all types, including department stores, grocery stores, specialty stores, discount stores, independent stores and online merchants.
I should point out that 95% of food retailers are RCC members. They provide essential services and are important employers in communities, large and small, across the country. They have a variety of recognized private labels and offer products in all food categories.
The important point there is that we represent both retailers as sellers of all types of food products, but every one of our members also has private-label brands and therefore has an interest from a food manufacturing perspective as well.
I am the vice-president of the grocery division for the Retail Council, and I manage RCC's food safety and regulatory committee. I'm here today because our members have a unique perspective in that they offer food types from every food category and they have direct interface and interactions with Canadian consumers. Healthy lifestyle is something that is very important to members and they promote it. They have a number of activities. For instance, through their private-label programs they have a strong record of product reformulation, product redevelopment, and innovation, to provide products that contribute to a healthy diet. They're also active in providing nutrition support and education to consumers through in-store dieticians, nutrition rating programs, and in-store support for health conditions that require special diets, such as diabetes and hypertension.
Our members also provide products and information that promote food skills development in support of healthy eating, from partially prepared meals that help consumers gain cooking skills and confidence, to in-store kitchens and cooking classes, to recipes and tips on preparing healthy meals and snacks at home. In addition, our members have proudly partnered with Health Canada to support important collaborative consumer education programs, including the Eat Well and Nutrition Facts education campaigns. These programs were successful in educating Canadians on both nutrition fundamentals and how to use the nutrition facts table.
Specifically with regard to comments on Canada's food policy, in order to ensure that our food system continues to be the world leader that it is—in fact, I'm sure members of this committee are familiar with a 2014 Conference Board of Canada report that actually tied Health Canada in first place with Ireland for the world's safest food safety system—the food policy must contain the following seven elements.
One, as a basis it must start with a recognition that Canada's food system is indeed among the safest in the world and provides some of the most affordable food to Canadians.
Two, it must recognize the role that government has to play in further increasing access to affordable food and further improving health and food safety, and that these are critical for all Canadians.
Three, it must include provisions to ensure that industry is consulted in order to ensure that any new policies, programs, and regulations are not only achievable, but actually promote industry growth.
Four, it must look to the requirements of our major trading partners and allow for differences only under specifically listed circumstances, such as differences in language or in climate, so as to maximize consumer choice and minimize additional costs that are associated with regulatory misalignment.
Five, similarly to international regulatory harmonization, it must promote interprovincial harmonization as well as within the federal family. The policy touches on issues that span the work of many federal departments, and also provincial and municipal jurisdictions. In many cases there is existing significant work being undertaken in these areas, such as nutrition and food waste, for example.
Six, it must recognize programs that industry already has in place, for example food waste management, and avoid regulating in these areas in order to avoid duplication of effort. Of course, by definition, regulations are intervening in the marketplace, so if something's already being done voluntarily, we don't want to limit innovation and flexibility.
Seven, it must acknowledge that imported foods are an integral part of Canada's food system. After all, we do live in Canada and there are seasonal considerations. In order for us to enjoy the products that we also in enjoy in December, January and February, we need to recognize the role that imports play in our access to these foods at affordable prices year-round.
These seven elements will promote industry growth and I'd be pleased to take your questions.
Thank you very much.