Evidence of meeting #68 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 eggs.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Gordon Harrison  President, Canadian National Millers Association
Patrick McGuinness  Interim President, Fisheries Council of Canada
Jason McLinton  Vice-President, Grocery Division and Regulatory Affairs, Retail Council of Canada
Dave Carey  Executive Director, Canadian Seed Trade Association
Roger Pelissero  Chairman, Egg Farmers of Canada
Tim Lambert  Chief Executive Officer, Egg Farmers of Canada

5:05 p.m.

Executive Director, Canadian Seed Trade Association

Dave Carey

From my perspective, I think it's a chance for the government to come out in favour of science, innovation, and the food available on grocery store shelves. It's easy to talk about innovation in the cellphone industry or the car industry, but it's still taboo to talk about innovation when it comes to food. Food forms part of our social mores, I understand that, but this is a chance for the Canadian government to come out and say the product of the farmer in his overalls 75 years ago was less sustainable than what we have today. We have so much more information—big data and analytics.

Things have changed to allow the government to come out in favour of innovation, in favour of science in the agriculture industry, as opposed to just in the high-tech industry. We deal with the same things. You see in grocery stores non-GMO, when there's no GMO equivalent. So you're seeing non-GMO wheat, when here's no GMO wheat anywhere in the world. It amounts to a scare tactic. If I don't see non-GMO on that barley, is there GMO? Well, there's still no GMO barley. So it's a chance for the government to come out in favour of our own regulatory system, which is science-based.

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Ruth Ellen Brosseau NDP Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

We hear a lot, too, about the importance of education.

Every year on September 10, the UPA organizes Quebec farm open houses. I had the honour of participating for the sixth time this year. I love it. It is my favourite day. As my riding is in a rural environment, I have to make tough choices. A dozen farms host an open house, and I have to decide where to go on that day. Consumers from cities get an opportunity to learn about farm realities. The event also helps young people realize that they can make a life and a career in farming. It is very interesting.

One thing with this food strategy is that it can be big. It's going to touch other ministries, other departments—Health Canada, Northern Affairs Canada. Can you talk about the importance of coordination between government entities? Do you have examples of alignment or misalignment between different departments at the federal level?

5:05 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Egg Farmers of Canada

Tim Lambert

I don't know if I can point to specific examples of misalignment, but I would underscore the point that having alignment is critical. It's important that farmers have a voice. We're ultimately producing the food, and we need to make sure there's alignment. That's why we keep coming back to evidence-based, science-based principles. It needs to be accurate and it needs to be right.

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Ruth Ellen Brosseau NDP Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

As well, at committee we had consultation and we did a study on Growing Forward 3, or the next provincial-federal framework, especially on the importance of making some of the business risk management programs better and more useful for certain farmers. Could you maybe speak on the importance of the business risk management program?

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Ms. Brosseau, your time is up.

Mr. Peschisolido, the floor is yours.

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Peschisolido Liberal Steveston—Richmond East, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair. I'll be sharing my time with Raj, so at three minutes cut me off.

Guests, thank you for coming out.

Let me begin by saying that I love my eggs. Whenever I go out, I have omelettes. I try to have a couple of eggs a day. I get them from a buddy of mine, Steve Easterbrook, who owns Rabbit River Farms. I asked him once, “Why Rabbit River?” He goes, “Easterbrook: Rabbit River.”

5:05 p.m.

Voices

Oh, oh!

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Peschisolido Liberal Steveston—Richmond East, BC

I also give five dollars to David Graham. He has chickens, and he's a member of Parliament from Quebec.

Mr. Pelissero, I mention that because I like the point you made that you take care of your chickens. Farmers don't produce eggs, chickens do. I had a visit to some of the henhouses in the valley. I won't say where I went, but it bothered me. It bothered me to see six to eight chickens on top of pretty well nothing, and to see that confinement-type approach. It actually hurt me to see that.

I was pleased, Mr. Pelissero and Mr. Lambert, that you talked about the importance of the whole approach to animal welfare. Can you talk a bit about where the codes of practices are going, and comment on that?

5:10 p.m.

Chairman, Egg Farmers of Canada

Roger Pelissero

Sure. The code of practice was recently completed, just in April of this year. We have new guidelines that all egg farmers across this country have agreed to. As we move forward, there are timelines in the code that put in place the times that farmers will need to meet certain requirements. We have so many different housing types in Canada because we provide several different types of eggs. Consumers want choice, so as egg farmers, we provide choice.

We are happy that the code is done. We're proud to produce eggs following the code guidelines, because our number one priority is taking care of our hens.

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Joe Peschisolido Liberal Steveston—Richmond East, BC

Absolutely.

Mr. Carey, you mentioned the importance of education. In Steveston—Richmond East, I have Kwantlen Polytechnic institution. They have a lovely program for seeds. Can you expand a bit on how our national food policy, when it's implemented, can work with post-secondary institutions?

5:10 p.m.

Executive Director, Canadian Seed Trade Association

Dave Carey

I think the key is to not reinvent the wheel but to funnel into organizations like Agriculture in the Classroom, which we're also supporters of. They already have the infrastructure built. I would suggest that when this policy is developed and there's a budget allocated to it for outreach and education, you partner with farm groups that have the ability to reach those audiences. Rather than try to create a made-for-government outreach approach, I'd recommend using groups like the 4-H program and Agriculture in the Classroom. They're already actively doing it, and they could carry your message forward.

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Mr. Saini.

September 21st, 2017 / 5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Raj Saini Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

Thank you very much.

I want to touch on a point that Mr. Lambert raised about educating physicians about the quality of eggs. I'm a pharmacist by profession. When I started, eggs were bad. We used to recommend egg whites, not egg yolks. Then egg yolks weren't so bad. Now eggs are good, but limited. You can see the circular argument that's happening. People don't realize what's within the egg yolk: antioxidants; vitamins; zeaxanthin; lutein, which is great for the eyes; and choline, which is great for the brain.

My point is that, first, I think the education piece is very important, and you shouldn't focus just on physicians. You should focus more on pharmacists and nurses and dieticians, because they actually spend more time with the patients.

There is also something else. You didn't mention this, and I want to bring this to your attention. When I was a pharmacist, one of the things I used to treat arthritis and joint inflammation with was eggshell membrane. Lots of potential health benefits can be derived. I know that eggs have had a bad rap because of cholesterol, but even that has been mitigated. The cholesterol is saturated fat, and it's not that the body produces more cholesterol.

I think it would be good for business commercially but also good for health care if that message could be brought about in a way that reflects the advantages of what eggs can do and also demystifies some of the myths out there.

5:10 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Egg Farmers of Canada

Tim Lambert

Those are all good points.

I didn't expand on the physician's education piece, just given the time, but we also do a lot of outreach to nurses and dietitians, but probably less to pharmacists. I would say that would be a gap we should look at. Also, there's a lot of research going into alternative uses for eggs. One is Dr. Wu at the University of Alberta, and he's doing some really interesting work in alternative uses for things like shell membranes, even research into how they can be used in the medical field for wound coverings and all sorts of fascinating applications.

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Go ahead, Mr. Saini.

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Raj Saini Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

No, it's okay, thank you.

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Mr. Drouin, you have six minutes.

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Drouin Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Thanks to all the witnesses.

Mr. Lambert, Mr. Pelissero, I'll get back to you, but I'll just ask this to Mr. Carey quickly.

You mentioned different jurisdictions doing different things and impacting industry as a whole. I don't know if this exists, but are there any provincial bodies or interprovincial bodies that deal with these sorts of issues, so you're not stuck with the piecework of regulations that your organization deals with?

5:15 p.m.

Executive Director, Canadian Seed Trade Association

Dave Carey

Not on the government side, at least that I'm aware of, but definitely on the research side; for example, every provincial beekeeper will get together, a group of apiarists. But often we find that, when we do have government to government at the provincial level reaching out, it's not at senior levels. It's more about the working levels, so while they're sharing information, they're not the ones who make decisions.

We see federally it would be great if, during the FPT meetings, those things were really brought to bear. For example, you definitely know the different rules for how you operate in Quebec and Ontario, more than anywhere else, and that doesn't really make a lot of sense when you consider that most agriculture production is actually out west.

That would be a good initiative, at least at the senior level, because it's definitely at the working grassroots level, but they're not the ones who can change regulations or push through legislation. They're the ones who work with industry and do extension work.

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Drouin Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

It's actually something we've been pushing for, and when we talk about harmonizing regulations, we're pushing this through NAFTA. I know the other side is not with environment, but environment impacts our industry here. We think it's important that you include it because time and time again we've heard from industry representatives that we're not harmonizing our regulations with the U.S. or with Mexico, and this is causing problems for a lot of your members. This is something that I truly believe is why we're pushing through NAFTA; but anyway, I'll get back to that later.

Tim, just on the egg production side, I want to touch on what Raj has touched on a little bit. There are a lot of health benefits, but unfortunately some who would call themselves scientists or would call that science—well, I'll just name them, Mercy for Animals—will say eating eggs is just as bad as smoking five cigarettes per day. Unfortunately, you have to counteract that. How do you counteract that as an industry? How are you looking at this, within the next five years, because obviously we know that we have a lot more urban Canadians who are not connected to agriculture, and who may use these so-called scientists, or will get their information online. How do you counter that information? What sort of strategy are you implementing? How should we, as a government, implement that in the national food policy?

5:15 p.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Egg Farmers of Canada

Tim Lambert

Those are good questions. I'll start, and Roger can comment as well.

We invest a lot in research, as I mentioned. One of the groups we're very much involved in is an organization that's U.S.-based. It's called the Egg Nutrition Center; we're partners in that. There's a team of experts. It's an actual doctor, Dr. Spence from southwestern Ontario, who makes this crazy claim. The best counter to that is objective, third party, and evidence-based. Yes, that would be a doctor, too, but you get a lot of other voices that will speak out against that. So when crazy things like that happen, we do tap into a group of third party experts who can speak.

The other thing we do a lot is our outreach to Canadian consumers through people like Roger, directly through the farmers. We get tired and frustrated, and that's one example, among others, of misinformation about food production, about egg production. So it wasn't designed to sell more eggs; it was designed to have people like Roger talk about animal welfare, talk about food safety, talk about what he does on his farms. It's interesting that, when we started to put their faces in front of the product, it really resonated with consumers. Farmers are highly trusted, as you know, and lo and behold, not only did it improve public trust, but it actually sold a lot more eggs.

The good science, third party experts, and the faces and voices of our farmers, are probably a three-pillar combination around countering misinformation and bad information.

5:15 p.m.

Executive Director, Canadian Seed Trade Association

Dave Carey

I'd like to add really quickly, I think you're starting to see a push-back on social media from people who are recognized as experts who are pushing back against bad science. That's happened very organically.

If we, as an association and our members tried to do that, it wouldn't be as effective. Now, you have guys like Bill Nye, the science guy, and Neil DeGrasse Tyson, who are slamming bad science on Twitter, and I think that's gone a long way toward pushing some of that....

There was Teh Food Bae for a while who is very widely discredited now, but was really altering people's buying habits. Now, when you have internationally recognized scientists, who have become celebrities in their own right, taking on the mantle of stopping bad science that.... Some of the larger multinationals are giving their staff the ability to interact online and tell them to have those conversations.

I'm hoping they're seeing a wave of people who now want to know that the information they're getting is accurate and not just accepting what they hear, because they're the so-called experts.

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Drouin Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Just quickly, you mentioned non-GMO wheats, which makes me laugh because I still see some companies out there advertising this. What do you think, should the government play a role in this or should it not or should it let industry market the way it wants to?

5:20 p.m.

Executive Director, Canadian Seed Trade Association

Dave Carey

If you get into the labelling thing, it's a slippery slope for how far you can get down into it. I think it's about education. I generally don't believe you should be able to label something that's....

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Pat Finnigan

Thank you, Mr. Drouin.

Ms. Boucher, you're up for six minutes.