Food and Consumer Products of Canada would like to commend the government for its leadership in developing a national food policy, and I welcome the opportunity to provide our comments today for consideration.
With the rapid growth of the global demand for food and the recent recognition by this government of Canada's potential to meet this need, this is a critical and timely issue. FCPC is committed to continuing to work in close collaboration on a national food policy to help position Canada to play a leading role as a trusted leader in the production of safe, high-quality, and affordable food.
FCPC is Canada's largest national industry association. It represents the companies that manufacture and distribute the majority of food, beverage, and consumer goods found on store shelves, in restaurants, and in people's homes. Our membership is truly national. It provides value-added jobs for urban and rural Canadians in more than 170 federal ridings across the country.
According to the chair of the advisory council on economic growth, Mr. Dominic Barton, food is going to be one of the biggest businesses in the world. Canada is well positioned to play a vital role in feeding the world with its made-in-Canada products. This strategy hinges on a competitive manufacturing sector.
For the first time, budget 2017 singled out agri-food as one of three key strategic industries with great potential for growth and job creation. The government's commitment to diversify and move Canada beyond our reliance on commodities towards growth in value-added production is significant and unprecedented.
As food processing is the largest employer in manufacturing in Canada, with facilities in every region of the country, our industry plays a critical role in linking rural and remote Canadians through economic opportunity. Canadian farmers and food manufacturers work interdependently to produce some of the most trusted food in the world. In addition to providing a market for the food that farmers grow, food manufacturers provide off-farm employment opportunities for rural residents and countless indirect jobs across Canada.
I'll briefly highlight our engagement on a national food policy and follow up with eight recommendations.
FCPC has been actively engaged in the development of a national food policy in close contact with several groups as they have pursued their own sound strategies, including the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, the Conference Board of Canada, and the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute.
Back in 2011, I was pleased to present at the annual meeting of federal, provincial, and territorial ministers of agriculture and agri-food, in Saint Andrews, New Brunswick, in support of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture's food strategy.
I'll move on to our recommendations.
A lot of good work has been done to date, and this leads me to my first recommendation, which is to build on the work that has already been done in the development of an NFP.
Second is that, to ensure success, an NFP must integrate the entire value chain, from farm to fork.
Third, an NFP must ensure that our rural communities are sustainable and prosperous. As the largest manufacturing employer in rural Canada, food processors play an important part in making this happen.
Fourth, in developing an NFP, we should not lose sight of the fact that we have a lot to be proud of in Canada. We have some of the safest food in the world. The made-in-Canada food brand is globally recognized, and for good reason. We need to know our starting point before developing an NFP to understand where we're at and where we're going.
Fifth, the government should consider the report completed by the advisory council on economic growth, chaired by Dominic Barton, as an anchor to an NFP. This report discusses the potential of the agri-food sector and the opportunity to grow and process more of our own food in Canada, rather than letting other countries do this for us. In the report, Mr. Barton recognizes room for further growth that can be achieved with the development of value-added products. He points out that we add value to only 50% of what we grow in Canada and that this represents an enormous, untapped opportunity.
An NFP must help position Canada to achieve its agri-food export targets, as identified in the federal budget.
Sixth, we need to adopt a whole-of-government approach. While we commend the federal government's intent and efforts to coordinate between departments, more work needs to be done. An example of misalignment is Health Canada's proposal to place warning labels on food at a time when other departments are working closely with the agri-food sector to meet ambitious growth targets. We share the serious concerns of national farm groups regarding the proposal to place warning labels, such as stop signs, on iconic Canadian products like cheese and maple syrup. An NFP could help play a coordinating role.
Seventh, decisions need to be based on evidence, transparency, inclusiveness, and open dialogue.
We welcome the federal government's political commitments, but we continue to have serious concerns with the process and approach that Health Canada officials continue to take towards the placement of warning labels on the front of food packages. There are other ways to improve public health, like education, that take a more informative approach to how people eat. Our own research shows that consumers prefer a more informative approach than warning labels. There's no evidence to suggest that Health Canada's proposals will improve public health outcomes.
Following a meeting on September 18 with Health Canada and other stakeholders, we were very disappointed that the department communicated broadly in writing, on September 27, that we had arrived at an agreement on criteria for front-of-pack labelling, which we had not. This was a clear misrepresentation of the record. Health Canada's criteria is so narrow that it would actually exclude exploring labelling options adopted by our major trading partners. It's important to get this right.
Finally, eighth, we therefore jointly request, with the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, for this committee to study front-of-package labelling, including the approaches taken by our major trading partners in North America and Europe to determine the best approach for Canada. It is critical to study how a front-of-pack approach will, number one, impact the objectives of a national food policy, and number two, impact the ability of the agri-food industry to meet the growth targets identified by Mr. Barton and the federal budget.
In conclusion, I think we should build on Canada's strengths. We have the potential to become international leaders in food production and innovation, and a national food policy can help get us there.