Thank you very much, Mr. Berthold, for sharing some time with me.
Mr. Chair, I want to bring forward my motion that I brought notice of on Monday. I would like to bring that forward for discussion now, if I may, please.
My motion read:
That, pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food undertake a study of the Canada Food Guide and hear specifically from agriculture and agri-food stakeholders; and that the Committee report its findings to the House prior to the release of Part 1 of the new dietary guidance policy report.
I'd like to take a few moments, if I may, just to speak to that motion, Mr. Chair, and to my colleagues on the committee. I apologize to our witnesses, but I think this is something very important and certainly important to our witnesses; it's apropos that these are the ones who are with us today.
I'm pretty confident that my colleagues on both sides of the floor and from all the parties have heard quite loudly from their constituents on the concerns and the direction that the Canada food guide and the national food policy are going in. Certainly it was quite evident for those of us who were at that breakfast yesterday, when Dr. Samis was talking about concerns he was raising, namely—according to several doctors we've spoken with—that this is not only going in the wrong direction, but actually could be counterproductive in terms of what we're trying to accomplish.
The part of that food guide that we need to be concerned about is where it's encouraging people to stop eating what doctors, physicians, nutritionists, dieticians, and our stakeholders believe are healthy animal proteins, as well as dairy products.
Our job here as the agriculture committee, Mr. Chair, is to represent our stakeholders from all areas of agriculture: our farmers, our ranchers, agrifood, our processors, and those businesses who rely on that. I was quite dismayed when the health committee brought this forward and committed just two meetings to the food guide, without inviting a single farmer, rancher, processor, agribusiness representative, medical professional, nutritionist, dietician, or physician who would have brought a different perspective and different studies and science to that report.
It behooves us a great deal to bring this forward and study it at this committee. It's to ensure that our stakeholders feel they've had a voice in this process; right now they haven't. As I said, I know you guys have heard the same messages as we have on this side of the table. They feel extremely frustrated that they are not being given a voice in the direction of a document that will impact them more than any other sector of the economy.
Not only will it impact them—their livelihood as farm families and businesses—and the economy, but I'm worried about the broader message this is going to be sending. We talk about protecting our agriculture sector, our agribusinesses, and supply management on the international stage. We're in the middle of NAFTA negotiations. I'm very excited that the trans-Pacific partnership—the CPTPP—is going to be signed, hopefully, in the next few months. These are amazing opportunities.
However, how can our stakeholders—our farmers, ranchers, and producers—trust us to protect their best interests on an international stage, when we are not even protecting them here at home in a domestic document that the government has full control over? How can we say to our stakeholders, absolutely, we're going to ensure that these trade agreements...and you have these markets that will be available to you, but we're not going to give you the same support here at home?
We talk about non-tariff trade barriers, and what's going on in Italy and India right now. How can we profess that our food is the safest in the world and processed under the strictest regulations? How do we sell that internationally when we are telling our own Canadian consumers to be eating less of these products because they're not good for you? That sends a very mixed message, not only to our potential markets around the world, but certainly to our stakeholders here at home.
I'm very concerned about that, especially when our number one job here, in my opinion, is to be the voice of our agriculture sector across the country, and I don't think any one of us can argue that it's very clear that Health Canada is going in a direction that is detrimental to our agriculture sector and to food processors, as well as the producers on the ground.
I put out a statement on Monday after I tabled that motion, and it did not take very long to get a stack of letters of support from stakeholders who want us to study this issue. I want to really stress this point: these letters are not only from the livestock industry or the dairy industry. There are letters from grain growers and horticulture associations. None of them want us, as a government, to be picking winners and losers in this food guide document. They all want to be successful. They see that the Canada food guide and some of the food policy when it comes to front-of-package labelling.... Again, it goes to this: how do we talk about food safety when we're telling Canadians that the food we produce here on the farm is unhealthy?
They want to ensure that we're successful and that we're championing our agriculture sector. I truly believe the direction that Health Canada is going in with the food guide is based on some sort of activism and some sort of ideology and is not based on good science. Again, I think it's our job here to ensure that there's a balanced approach to the food guide and that all stakeholders have a voice, and not just industry. We should ensure that we invite medical professionals who are going to give us a balanced view on what the food guide should be, what should be included, and what is best for Canadians.
From what I've seen in that first draft of the food guide, and certainly from the feedback I've had from our stakeholders, the direction the food guide is going in is extremely one-sided. It is not balanced. Again, I think it is our job to make sure that we stand up for our stakeholders, that we stand up for our farmers, our ranchers, and our food processors. I'm asking for your support on this motion.
I would like to add, if I may—I apologize again for taking some time, but I do believe this is an important issue—that the Minister of Agriculture.... I would never profess that the minister should instruct us on what to do. We are an independent body, and I think that's very important. The Minister of Agriculture, in a meeting with the Dairy Farmers of Canada this morning, did say that he would not oppose the agriculture committee's studying of this issue. I think that's a good sign: we have some support from the minister to take this on.
Again, I'm hoping for your support on this issue. I think it's extremely important. If we do not agree to do this study and to do it right, my question to you and my colleagues who are on this committee is, what are we here for? What are we here for if we are not going to take an opportunity to stand up for our stakeholders and be their voice at the table? Whatever the results of that study may be, I think it is our job to ensure that we take a balanced approach. That report is given to the Minister of Agriculture who can then be at the cabinet table with the Minister of Health to ensure there is a much broader vision on what that food guide should entail.
I thank you again for giving me this time, and again I thank our witnesses who are here today. I truly believe this is of the utmost importance. It's very timely. We only have a finite amount of time to ensure that our message, the message of our agriculture community, is brought to the forefront.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.