Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Agriculture and Forestry
Issue 15 - Evidence - Meeting of April 24, 2012
OTTAWA, Tuesday, April 24, 2012
The Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry met this day at 5:48 p.m. to examine and report on research and innovation efforts in the agricultural sector. (topic: How a national food strategy could drive agriculture and agri-food innovation in Canada)
Senator Fernand Robichaud (Deputy Chair) in the chair.
The Deputy Chair: Honourable senators, I call the meeting to order. Welcome to this meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry.
My name is Fernand Robichaud. I am a senator from New Brunswick and the deputy chair of the committee.
I would like all of you to introduce yourselves, starting with the opposition senators.
Senator Merchant: I am Senator Pana Merchant, and I am from Saskatchewan.
Senator Mahovlich: Senator Frank Mahovlich from Toronto, Ontario.
Senator Buth: Senator Joanne Buth from Manitoba.
Senator Maltais: Senator Ghislain Maltais, Quebec.
Senator Rivard: Senator Michel Rivard, The Laurentides, Quebec.
The Deputy Chair: Thank you. The committee is continuing its study on research and innovation efforts in the agricultural sector.
The objective of today's meeting is to understand how a national food strategy could drive agriculture and agri-food innovation in Canada.
I would like to invite the senator who just arrived to introduce himself.
Senator Plett: Senator Don Plett, Landmark, Manitoba. Sorry I am late and welcome here.
The Deputy Chair: Joining us today are Anna Paskal, Senior Policy Advisor at Food Secure Canada, and Diana Bronson, Executive Director at Food Secure Canada.
I think that the two of you will make your presentations first, and then we will continue with Garnet Etsell, Co-Chair, National Food Strategy, Canadian Federation of Agriculture. We will wrap things up with David McInnes, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute.
We thank you for accepting our invitation. You can now begin your presentation, which will be followed by a questions period with the senators. If you do not have the answers to some of the questions, you can mail them to us.
Ladies, you may begin your presentation.
Diana Bronson, Executive Director, Food Secure Canada: Thank you. My name is Diana Bronson, and I am the Executive Director of Food Secure Canada. I am accompanied by our Senior Policy Advisor, Anna Paskal. I will make the presentation, but both of us will answer any questions you may have, as I am relatively new to this position and Ms. Paskal has been with Food Secure Canada for about ten years.
Thank you very much for inviting us here tonight. We are delighted to be here to talk about a national food strategy. I would just like to say a few words about Food Secure Canada. We are a national, membership-based organization. We have many organizational and individual members. They include farmers and fishermen, dieticians and public health officials, provincial food councils, teachers, food bank workers, international development NGOs, trade unions, academics, and many, many concerned individuals.
In a nutshell, our goal is to build a healthy, fair and ecological food system for Canada, where there is zero hunger.
As you are all aware, Canada currently has no national food policies. Programs and policies that affect food are divided up amongst different departments and agencies. There is no master plan. There is no central coordination and no clear method for ensuring optimal outcomes from different policies. We think that a national food strategy would allow us to take the many issues that are related to food, health, environment, economics and many things and see them as part of an interconnected whole.
We have just emerged from an unprecedented national undertaking called the People's Food Policy. We tried to take a whole-picture look at Canada's food system. It was a citizen-led initiative to develop a national food policy for Canada, and it is grounded in the principle of food sovereignty. Food sovereignty is a concept that goes beyond, and is quite different from, food security. It privileges the rights of people, communities and nation states to define their own food systems. Thousands of Canadians across the country participated in this grassroots project of collective policy writing, of meeting around kitchen tables and talking about the food we eat, how it is produced and how it could be better.
The result of this exercise, which took over two and a half years, is this document that has been circulated to all of you. It is called Resetting the Table: A People's Food Policy for Canada, and it is available, along with the 10 policy papers that informed it, on our website, foodsecurecanada.org.
We think that this document represents the most comprehensive food policy that is being looked at in Canada today. Where did we start? We began with the recognition that our food system is failing Canadians. Two million Canadians are regularly hungry. Thousands of family farms are disappearing. One in four Canadians are obese, and the environment is being pushed to the limit as young farmers are unable to stay on the farm.
The status quo is no longer an option. It is time for widespread change, and we believe that innovation is not only possible but necessary.
These problems are not only Canadian problems. They are international problems. I am sure that your committee is by now familiar with the groundbreaking International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development and the IAASTD report that was published in 2009. It is a major international study involving over 400 scientists and countless international agencies, run by the World Bank and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.
It had a number of findings, but the headline of the press release on the report was "Business as usual is no longer an option."
Among the recommendations, it said that we had to strengthen agro-ecology and that this would not only address the urgent environmental issues posed by agricultural production but would also increase productivity and do so for the long term.
We have many recommendations in Resetting the Table, as you will see when you have time to have a look at it, but today I would like to focus on one recommendation — support for local and sustainable food systems. Over and over again, we heard from the people who participated in the food policy that they wanted food that was produced and processed closer to home. Concretely, this means shifting away from commodity-based, export-focused agriculture and looking towards local, sustainable systems. This is the kind of innovation that we need to see. There are huge benefits to doing it. It can help to develop our regional economies. It can create local jobs. It has tremendous environmental benefits. I am going to skip over a little bit of some of the other details, just because we are lacking time, but I would be happy to come back to them.
I just want to mention two initiatives, things that are going on across the country, the kind of innovation we are talking about. An organization called FarmStart, for example, exists to provide support to young farmers who are trying to start doing ecological production. It is so difficult for young people to get into farming. Local Food Plus is a certification scheme that labels food that is sourced locally.
I think it is really important for this committee not to reduce the question of innovation to a narrow and scientific focus. With all due respect, we have to disagree with the statement made earlier today by Gerry Ritz when he said that what is required is more of the same. On the contrary, we think business as usual cannot continue. Genuine agricultural innovation will be driven by a comprehensive national food strategy; and that must tackle hunger, environmental degradation, the difficulties faced by farmers and fishermen and women to make a decent living and the predominance of unhealthy food habits in our country.
These are some of the many interconnected issues that we have addressed in the people's food policy. We hope you will be looking at that and suggesting follow-up on some of those recommendations when you write your report to the Government of Canada.
The Deputy Chair: We will now move on to Mr. Etsell's presentation.
Garnet Etsell, Co-Chair National Food Strategy, Canadian Federation of Agriculture: Thank you, Mr. Chair and senators. The National Food Strategy was initiated at the Canadian Federation of Agriculture's annual general meeting in February 2010 stemming from a concern that Canada does not have, as has already been expressed, a long-term plan for the Canadian food system.
The National Food Strategy has been developed in working groups by leaders across the food chain, presented and supported by federal, provincial and territorial agricultural ministers, and acknowledged in party platforms during the last federal election and is now in the process of gaining buy-in from key organizations, stakeholders and consumer organizations. The National Food Strategy is a vision for food and agriculture in Canada. It was created to ensure a more holistic and strategic approach for food and agriculture in order to meet the needs of the food system, future generations and the global community.
The strategy focuses on the long term, recognizing that short-term, band-aid solutions are not enough for the lasting and evolving challenges we face today. The agriculture and agri-food industry has been hard at work pushing the move towards finding broader solutions for the value chain, taking into account everything from promoting the Canadian brand and healthy lifestyles to sustaining economic growth and ecosystems.
The CFA has worked hard to ensure that the National Food Strategy is industry's strategy and that it engages all players along the food chain as well as government with the purpose of providing an agreed-upon direction that will effectively guide appropriate food policy for years to come. It is expected to be a living document and should be revisited on a regular basis.
The National Food Strategy involves nine strategic objectives, and they present our goals and aspirations for the food system in Canada through to 2025. I will not read each one of them as they are in the document in front of you. You can do so at your leisure. The National Food Strategy presents a strategic vision for food and for the Canadian food system. Food touches most aspects of our lives, and so too the National Food Strategy touches on most aspects of our society, from environmental considerations to health, education, agricultural policy, infrastructure, economic development and international relations. Admittedly, our food system is complex and its complexity makes a holistic and comprehensive approach that much more critical to our food system's sustainability. That approach, ultimately to be made functional through public policy and private business plans, must begin with a destination in mind — the strategic vision of Canada's food system.
The Canadian agricultural industry has always been innovative in meeting challenges, and it will need to continue to rely on and to drive innovation if it is to successfully meet the nine strategic objectives laid out in the strategy. "Innovation" is a commonly used word today that may mean different things to different people. A succinct definition that I particularly like defines "innovation" as being a new way of doing things that results in positive change. It makes life better. There is so much more to innovation than just simply research. It may include training, commercialization or process revision.
The industry has identified four fields of future innovation related to health, the environment, meeting market demand and increasing production efficiencies. Under health, we see the need for food product innovation to be aligned with Canada's Food Guide. Also, research should be focused on current food offerings and new food production innovation that maintains or improves the health of Canadians and citizens in other markets. The ongoing coordination and collaboration between the food industry and health sector would ensure that food availability and choice address the health interests of Canadians.
With respect to the environment, the goal that the Canadian food chain has placed on itself is to be a leader in environmentally sustainable food production. Food will be produced and processed sustainably and will contribute positively to environmental stewardship. The food chain will strive to productively utilize agricultural by-products and waste as usable resources so that soil, air, arable land and water resources are conserved and improved for future generations by focusing research on developing renewable products, outputs and food systems that will be resilient to the future impacts of climate change.
With respect to market demand, to successfully meet current and future market demand at home and abroad, the industry will continuously research and innovate to provide the products in demand by Canadian and international consumers. The industry foresees ongoing research that continuously identifies the quantity and nature of future demand domestically and globally as an imperative.
Food production efficiencies: Finally, the Canadian agri-food industry has identified innovation as key for continuing to drive production efficiencies. The industry believes that innovation in genetics, production and processing practices, and marketing drives food chain success. Also, improvements in Canadian infrastructure should ensure the efficient storage, transportation and distribution of food to all parts of Canada and that the cutting edge communication technology is available to all Canadian producers and processors.
Canada has so much to offer its citizens and the global community. Our human resource and natural resource capacity to produce a safe, nutritious and bountiful food supply is not only a blessing that we enjoy but also an opportunity and a moral imperative. The continued well-being and, indeed, the existence of mankind rely on a sustainable food supply. That can happen only through comprehensive planning and execution of a shared set of food chain and food system objectives.
The Deputy Chair: Thank you, Mr. Etsell. Mr. McInnes, you may go ahead with your presentation.
David McInnes, President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute: Good afternoon. I represent the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute, an independent, non-partisan forum. Our mandate is to create a dialogue on relevant issues and to find alternative solutions so that the agri-food sector can achieve its full potential.
What are the essential conditions to create jobs and profitability across the agri-food sector? In our consultations, we found that there were three in order to achieve our food future. The first is transforming how we collaborate. The second is linking economic success to people's health and sustainability to create opportunities — a view that has been shared already. Third, how do we integrate policies to support these shifts? These ideas are based on some work that we did and published in 2011 entitled Canada's Agri-Food Destination: A New Strategic Approach.
Our work is about taking a food systems approach. The food system includes supply chains and how they work together. It also includes many other players in order to meet consumers' needs: the relationships with all three levels of government, information and technology providers, researchers and scientists, innovators, financial advisers, nutritionists, educators, human and animal health sectors, environmental services, and transport and logistics sectors, among many others. These are the players that are involved ultimately in the success of the agri-food sector.
The diagram that we forwarded to you, that you have in front of you and is submitted for the record, offers one perspective. It is a representation of how food links government and supply chains. On the right-hand side of the diagram are likely policy priorities of government. On the left are suggested agri-food priorities. I am going to briefly walk through a number of these points, starting with health.
For governments, a major goal is reducing health care costs. This increasingly requires focusing on prevention. Some 40 per cent of health care costs today are driven by chronic diseases, so diet is key in order to prevent disease. Up to 90 per cent of type 2 diabetes and 80 per cent of heart diseases could be prevented through improved diets as part of a healthy lifestyle.
Satisfying the growing interest in nutrition and what we eat is the opportunity across the agri-food sector. Pulse Canada, for example, wants to create a greater market pull for pulses as a healthy ingredient, such as adding pulses, such as lentils, to pasta, which can double the fibre and increase the protein content by 25 per cent. They are working with researchers, culinary schools and health professionals to nurture consumer interest in pulses.
Under trade, Canada is expanding market access for its exports. Access opens the door, but fostering demand is crucial for our commodities and value-added sector. To compete against low-cost exporting countries and premium exporters, we need foreign consumers to want Canadian even more. Distinguishing Canadian food is imperative, then.
Consumers, retailers and processors are increasingly looking to how food is being produced from such things as environmental footprints and hormone-free attributes. Export success in the future will depend on delivering upon such attributes, and farm-to-fork traceability is an effective tool that can demonstrate these value propositions.
The bioeconomy is surely going to be an innovation engine of the future. It is a platform for generating new revenues, reducing inputs and lowering operating costs. A Manitoba potato processor, for example, diverts its potato waste to a biotechnology company in the province to create biodegradable plastic resins used in packaging and injection mouldings. It is a win-win. In the livestock sector, biodigesters can generate biogas and electricity from manure, reducing energy costs and generating new revenues for the producer by selling electricity to the local grid. The University of Saskatchewan has discovered a bio-pesticide originating from mustard seed. We need to systematically look at these food compounds for their potential bio-applications.
Improving the viability of producers, in part by deploying such bio-solutions, may also help to render certain producer-directed risk programs less necessary in the future. Along with some improvements to the efficiency of such programs, the savings can therefore be used to help fund innovation. We see this as a proactive investment.
Managing water and carbon is a priority for the environment. With climate change, this is essential to being a reliable food supplier. Research is vital so farmers can remain adaptive, such as growing heat-and drought-resistant crops. Retailers and processors are setting water and carbon reduction targets. This is having a profound affect across global and national supply chains, and they are reaching right back to producers to deliver on these targets.
Research and development: Commercializing R&D relies in part on well functioning private-public partnerships. A healthier mushroom demonstrates the point. A large processor in Ontario worked with a mushroom grower and a publicly funded innovation centre, the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre, to create a more nutritious mushroom for use in sauces and soups. The processor benefited because they delivered on a desired product for the marketplace. The grower benefited from this collaboration because the consumer demand was already identified by the willing processor. The innovation centre benefited because they needed a supply chain to ultimately commercialize the improved mushroom. Collectively, they reduced each other's innovation risk.
Can flaxseed help to prevent heart disease? There is a clinical trial being concluded right now to find out. A research priority may be to systematically examine food compounds for such innovative product ideas.
In conclusion, food issues span many policy domains and players, and there are some other points that are outlined in this diagram, for example. We can create economic opportunities and improve people's health and ensure sustainable ecosystems. In Canada, we can be better at it than anywhere else in the world, as we are good at collaboration, but we need to make it happen. This is about creating a food systems strategy or a catalyst for information. Developing targets and metrics will help to galvanize action.
This is not about government setting supply chain targets. Each supply chain should create its own targets. Government can set out some bold directions and inspire, but they also can set out their targets for their own operations, such as conducting timely regulatory reviews.
We need a dialogue today on what should be our country's agri-food destination. What is it that we want to do and achieve? Would it be to double the value of our exports by a certain date? Should we be supplying a certain percentage of our own food, and if so, what would it take to do so? This is the strategic dialogue that we have to have, and a food strategy is about priority setting and aligning those players, and innovation is a means to help deliver on it. Thank you very much.
The Deputy Chair: Thank you, Mr. McInnes. We will now begin the question period. I will give senators the floor in the order in which they indicated to me they would like to ask questions.
The first senator on the list is the Honourable Senator Buth. If the question is for a particular witness, I would ask senators to so indicate.
Senator Buth: Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, and thank you to the witnesses for being here and for your presentations.
I have a couple of questions for Food Secure Canada. Can you tell me a bit about the process that you used and who participated in the process or what part of the food chain or the food system participated?
Anna Paskal, Senior Policy Advisor, Food Secure Canada: The People's Food Policy has a long history. It actually started 30 years ago. In the late 1970s, there was a commission called the People's Food Commission, which travelled across the country and visited 70 communities to get a portrait of food in Canada. At that time, they flagged some potential problems that may arise on the horizon, things around food additives and corporate concentration and what that might mean for people's health and the viability of Canadian producers and farmers losing their farms. They said these things are going to happen on the horizon. Everybody said, "That is cynical and they will never happen," and 30 years later we saw that those were indeed the main issues coming out of the food system.
Around five years ago, at a Food Secure Canada assembly, somebody said it is time for another people's food commission, but the difference that had happened in those 30 years was that the food movement had innovated all these amazing solutions across the country. People in communities were connecting growers and eaters. They were finding innovative ways to bring healthy food to the North. They were bringing healthy and local school meals and snacks to schools across the country.
We thought instead of starting at zero, let us start with people who are actually doing the front-line work and ask them what it would take to build a national food policy. The people who participated were from across the country. About 3,500 Canadians participated, and it was a very broad range of people: citizens, people who work in food banks, people who are community health workers, Aboriginal peoples and communities, students, teachers, farmers, fishers. It was the most diverse attempt to build a national food policy that has ever happened. The answer is broad because the people who participated were broad.
Then there were volunteer policy writing teams that wrote on 10 different topics. The background for this overall policy is 10 detailed policy documents on everything from agriculture to fishery, science and technology, and volunteer writing teams came together and assembled out of all of those hundreds of submissions from across the country in those themes and then built those policy discussion papers. It is a tremendously grassroots, citizen-led initiative that kind of got distilled up through a policy writing process.
Senator Buth: However, you did not have any food-processing companies or sort of "beyond the farm gate" participate in that?
Ms. Paskal: There were processors involved, yes, and co-ops and probably groups that participate more in having other outcomes for food, food production and processing, such as social and environmental outcomes and goals, as well as food businesses themselves, so community-supported agriculture and fisheries. There is a burgeoning diverse food movement out there that has ways of transforming, processing and distributing food, and they were very much a part of this process.
Senator Buth: You have used the term "agro-ecology," which I am quite familiar with. However, in reading through the document, my take would be — and I am asking whether you would like to comment on this — that you would be opposed to technology in terms of food production.
Ms. Paskal: I would say we would be in favour of expanding the commonly used definition of technology to recognize the technology that has gone into thousands of years of farmer innovation. The kind of technology that we talk about now, the science and technology that takes place in labs, is premised on 10,000 years of farmers' innovation, seed saving and genetic diversity. We would submit that that kind of technology should be part of the wider consideration of what science and technology entails, so honouring traditional knowledge, farmers' knowledge, seed saving, heritage varieties, and diverse breeds and species.
Senator Buth: Much of that is already taken into consideration in terms of a lot of agricultural production. It is the farmers, essentially, who are using the technology and have used it for years and years, and they continue to look for improvements in their production. However, there were several pieces within your document that clearly spoke to me as being opposed to modern technology. I just wanted to find out whether or not you agreed with that.
I want to come back to something you said, Ms. Bronson, about environmental degradation. What types of environmental degradation have you documented in Canada?
Ms. Bronson: Do you want to take that, Ms. Paskal?
Ms. Paskal: Sure. In a general sense, it is around an emphasis on chemical and industrial agriculture, which is having a negative effect on our soil fertility and our water base. I think that is a globally recognized challenge. The IAASTD report came out with that. That was where they came up with the comment that business as usual is not an option; we will not be able to feed the planet using these capital-and chemical-intensive modes of production. I think that is what we refer to when talking about that.
Senator Buth: So more of a broad global comment rather than specific to Canada. I always have some issues with broad, general statements being used without the evidence to back it up. I have quite a strong background in agriculture, so I am concerned when people use those types of terms without evidence.
Ms. Paskal: Globally, the statistics we have seen are that industrial agriculture, the whole process, contributes to between 38 per cent and 54 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. In Canada, that is the dominant mode of production. I think it is very applicable to Canada as well. I do not have the Canadian-specific statistics, but it is the same production system.
Senator Buth: Part of that is natural greenhouse gas production, through the normal production, essentially, of agriculture. It is not all related to technology. I will just leave it at that for now.
Ms. Bronson: Could I make an additional comment on the issue of technology? I think what has emerged very clearly internationally — and this has become apparent, for example, in the discussions leading up to Rio+20 — is the need for some kind of technology assessment as we explore which technologies are appropriate and which are not. In fact, I believe the United Nations Environment Programme has just come out with a major study — and this also came out of the World Economic Forum — as a major regulatory gap that exists not only in Canada but in our international capacity, that the social, economic and environmental impacts of different technologies that are released onto the marketplace are not adequately examined and the precautionary principle is not adequately put into place before they are released on the marketplace, which often leaves us with the situation of cleaning up a mess after it has already occurred.
I think Food Secure Canada would be in favour of that use of the precautionary principle and a careful examination of what technologies are appropriate in different circumstances. Also, clearly we are not in favour of a one-size-fits-all approach, neither saying, "This is absolutely not the right technology." There are many different technologies that would be appropriate to different circumstances, and I think the diversity that needs to be fostered is in fact where we will find some kind of resilience for our farming systems over the long term.
Senator Buth: I agree that assessment is important, clearly, because even if you look at organic farming and production, there are some serious issues with regard to mining the soil in terms of fertility, et cetera.
Are you aware of the regulatory systems used in Canada in terms of approving some of these technologies and how the precautionary principle is already used?
Ms. Bronson: I do not have a great deal of personal knowledge right now, although I do share the concerns of many that those regulatory systems are being undermined now, undercut. I think that is probably a very serious issue, but I do not think that we have in Canada, or internationally, a robust technology assessment program.
Senator Buth: I agree regarding assessment, in terms of what different systems might do. However, I would defend the regulatory system in Canada as one of the best in the world. If you take a look at regulatory approvals, whether it is pesticides or biotechnology, I do not think there is any doubt that we have one of the best in the world.
Ms. Paskal: I know there are some questions around the regulatory approval system for genetically modified organisms. I believe that plants with novel traits, as they are called, are seen as substantial equivalents as the kind of starting point. I know that there is some concern around that, that they be seen separately and that the distinctness of genetically modified organisms be seen through the lens of the precautionary principle rather than as a substantial equivalent, kind of saying it is all the same from the beginning. I know our members feel quite strongly about that and have participated and presented in committee hearings before on that topic.
Senator Buth: I understand.
Senator Rivard: I would like to go back to the issues related to civil society. Despite the fact that the WHO has not proposed a new agreement, Canada is currently negotiating and signing free trade agreements with certain countries. The most important agreement is with the European Union.
Are you excited about what is currently happening, or are you concerned about it?
Ms. Bronson: I have not looked at all the agreements that have been signed — and I do have some experience in international trade. However, I feel that our members' concerns regarding new bilateral agreements in terms of trade and investments have to do with the fact that the state is risking a reduction in its power to legislate in order to focus on other issues. That could even take away from our ability to adopt a national food strategy.
For instance, if we decided to focus on producing local and environmentally friendly products to fight hunger — be it in the public sector or in federal institutions — trade agreements could be detrimental to us by imposing limits on that kind of preferential treatment, as it is referred to in international trade lingo.
That is indeed a concern. In addition, the growing number of bilateral agreements — each with slightly different rules — is problematic, as are the rules that promote the protection of the investor to the detriment of other interests.
Senator Rivard: Am I to understand that the other witnesses feel the same way? Does your organization share Ms. Bronson's concerns when it comes to free trade agreements that have been signed or are currently being negotiated?
Mr. McInnes: I cannot get into specific agreement details; I have not seen the Canada-U.S. document agreement. However, Canada is a trading nation and our export markets are absolutely vital for both rural economic development and helping to contribute to feed the world.
What is interesting about India's use of lentils is that they depend on Canada by about 40 per cent. We are a major food security anchor for that country. I think it is important that trade be facilitated. That does not mean that we should not have appropriate rules and that we should not have appropriate reviews, but the other important thing to keep in mind is that every single country is probably going to be reviewing how it sits on the food file. Strategy is important because that is how we will win, how we will create jobs and how we will continue to employ people.
For example, Scotland has a food strategy to increase its revenue growth by some 25 per cent by 2015. The Australians have a food strategy to increase their exports. They are linking this to health, sustainability and economic growth. That does not mean to say that we emulate any individual country, but we might be inspired by how other countries are trying to link agendas to position ourselves competitively. That is very important.
Mr. Etsell: It is great sitting in between here, because I can agree with both. You certainly do not want to see Canada giving up its sovereignty in terms of these negotiations, but it is quite refreshing to see Canada taking an aggressive approach on these bilateral negotiations. For too long when we sat at the WTO table, we were basically drifting in the wind and there was no direction or sense that Canada was making headway. It is great to see Canada actively engaging.
By 2020 there will be a handful of nations in this world that are producing a surplus amount of food over and above their own needs. Canada will be one of them. I think that we can have a food strategy that both looks at the domestic needs for food as well as we would be remiss if we did not take our responsibility internationally and become a food producer for the world. It is not only a great opportunity for Canada from an economic perspective, but it is also, as I said in my statement, a moral imperative that we take on that role as well.
Senator Rivard: Thank you.
Senator Plett: Thank you, witnesses. My first questions will be for Ms. Bronson and maybe Ms. Paskal. I read your priority recommendations and I certainly share your sentiment that it would be nice to ensure that farmers are able to earn a decent living and to enable the entry of new farmers into farming.
You talk about encouraging community-owned shareable infrastructure. You talk about making sure that our farms remain small, in my opinion. I am wondering how you would recommend that we ensure that farms remain small and that everyone who wants to farm can farm? I believe that we live in the best country in the world, a country that is based on free enterprise. In a country such as ours, you will have some people buying up their neighbour's farm and then the neighbour beyond that. As this happens, we will have large farms and it will be more difficult for a small farmer to break in.
If you want to ensure that everyone who wants to farm can farm, how do you do that in an environment such as ours?
Ms. Paskal: For us the starting preoccupation is around farmers being able to make a living. When you look at the statistics, net farm income is below zero if we take off government supports and off-farm income. The statistics that are coming out are that if we were not providing government support and people did not have jobs off the farm, their incomes would be below zero. It is based on that kind of increasing debt profile, that is, having to buy bigger and bigger pieces of land, economies of scale and machinery, and buying proprietary seeds, for instance.
Our assessment is that if we continue down that path, or more of the same, farmers will get more and more into debt. There is a need to take a look at how we can make changes in our agricultural system so that farmers are making a living and that new farmers are able to come in because it is an attractive field and people are making a living and having a decent life on the farm.
What we have seen through that is a shift in emphasis, that is, maybe more diversity on the farm, smaller scale agriculture and more contact with people who eat the food. Maybe those are ways to address that, but also the concentration in agriculture is making it harder for farmers to make a living. If the prices are being set by the large buyers, large producers and processors, then farmers do not have as much say in it. If there is a shift towards regional value chains, for instance, or more local production and consumption, we will be able to rebuild that middle of agriculture, that is, more local processing, more local transformation and more local distribution. Those will probably be more small and medium-sized businesses.
I recently presented at the parliamentary Agriculture Committee alongside the Alberta Food Processors Association. They were saying very much the same thing: We need to support the small-scale and medium-scale produces, transformers and processors and make those connections with smaller scale growers in order to increase the rural vibrancy and economic viability that is in a diverse food system. Small, medium and big would all be part of that picture.
Senator Plett: Who is "we"? You say we need to ensure that we help these people. Who is "we"?
Ms. Paskal: I would submit that it is the will of the government to have a participation in setting policies which can support new directions.
Senator Plett: So subsidies. You said a minute ago that that was a problem, namely, that the government was getting involved and subsidizing and that farmers could not make money because governments were artificially setting prices, and so on. Yet you are saying that the government should get involved. Should they get involved or not?
Ms. Paskal: Definitely, government should get involved. I did not say government subsidies were a bad thing; I was saying that without them farmers would not be making a living. I am sure farmers would prefer to be making a living from selling their products, but we definitely need those government supports. It is not just government; it is community, civil society and people in communities deciding that we want to change the food system towards other goals.
Ms. Bronson: Also, Senator Plett, to complete some of that, I do not think it is that we only want small farms. That is not what Food Secure Canada is saying. The importance of having small farms is so that people can start farming at a small level, if that is where they are starting to farm. In the 15 years before the 2006 Census, Canada lost 62 per cent of its farmers who were under 35 years of age. The figures went from 77,000 to 29,000.
Senator Plett: Do you know why? What was the reason for that?
Ms. Bronson: I am sure there are many reasons for that, but what I am suggesting is required, in part, is incentives and support so that young people can start farming.
Senator Plett: That land is still being farmed.
Ms. Bronson: By fewer and fewer farmers, who are already down to just 2 per cent of our population. I believe that, if we want to have a more local and sustainable food system, we will eventually see more people involved in farming. I will take a very personal example; my own daughter wants to become a farmer. It is very difficult for her to start farming. The young people who are interested in getting involved in farming today face many challenges just in terms of buying a few acres of land and getting started. If there were federally supported incentives to help those kids get into the business, that would be a wonderful thing. If there were ways to begin cultivating the land that is arable but is not going to good use, that would be a wonderful thing. We are just suggesting that there needs to be the ability for people to get into farming at the entry level.
Senator Plett: I do not disagree with you, but we have had many witnesses tell us that it is very difficult. Farmers tell us, "It is very difficult for me to get my son or daughter into farming because they do not want to do that." It is not because they cannot do that but because they do not want to do that. The father is willing to turn over his farm to his children, and they do not want to farm. I do not want to debate with you, so I will leave it at that. I will ask one more question.
The Deputy Chair: Senator Plett, I think Mr. McInnes wanted to add to your first question.
Senator Plett: Please, yes, and my next question was for Mr. McInnes. Then, I will leave it at that.
Mr. McInnes: I want to add that I think government can play a very important facilitating role in enabling supply chains to work differently to create new opportunities for producers. For example, in Manitoba, the school system is working to try to improve access to fruit and vegetables for kids, which is creating a new revenue stream for producers, ensuring healthier food for kids in the school system, and creating some new revenues for the school system.
What is really important, though, is understanding whether or not this is sustainable. You can nurture this to a degree, but it has to be sustainable over time. Ontario's solution — or one idea — is something called ontariofresh.ca, and it is funded by the government. It is essentially trying to create a brokering between producers in the greenbelt and chefs, retailers and restaurants in order to enable the local food to be sourced and then served.
If we understand how to nurture these supports to enable producers to get access to market, that perhaps gives them the necessary boost, particularly for those who want to start off or to grow what they are doing.
Senator Plett: I know of the program in Manitoba, and it is a wonderful program. I certainly agree with Food Secure Canada on healthy eating. We want to educate people to eat healthily. I fully support that. The program you are talking about in Manitoba is more, I think, to educate people to eat healthily. I am not sure that that, in itself, helps the farmer because it is not that the farmer has a shortage of places to sell his product. We have talked about export, and I am hugely in favour of export. I certainly agree with you, Mr. McInnes, that our export and trade is vitally important. I think what you are saying, and what Ms. Paskal and Ms. Bronson have said about healthy eating, is a wonderful thing. We need to educate people to eat healthily. None of us disagree with that, but I am talking more about what helps the farmer.
Let me ask you this, Mr. McInnes, though maybe you answered it, in part, with your opening comment. Many of the programs that you are talking about, some of which Senator Buth already alluded to — the flax oil, the biofuels — we are doing that. Who should be in charge of that? Should the government be in charge of all of this? Maybe all three of you could answer as to what body should be directing all of this. I am not sure that I support government directing everything.
Ms. Bronson: I am sure none of us supports that.
Mr. McInnes: Our view is that innovation has to be business-led. As my mushroom example demonstrated, the processors and the retailers should be brought together with the producers and the innovators. Frankly, the regulator should be at the table as well, in order to provide the line of sight on how to speed up product development.
There is a very important role for publicly funded innovation centres, so we should not discount that. For example, the Canadian International Grains Institute is looking at how to create a more nutritious barley to be used as an ingredient for export and internal use. They can bring the players, such as processors, the producer groups, and researchers, together to try to accelerate that innovation. There are probably many different models here, but, at the end of the day, the line of sight to the consumer rests with business. That is probably the most effective way to deliver on innovation.
Mr. Etsell: There is a reason we call our document a food strategy and not a food policy. We believe, as Mr. McInnes said, that strategy begins with industry, with the farm, and with the processor. I think the government certainly has a role to help facilitate and create the environment, but for it to be sustainable in the long term, it has to make economic sense. That is the strategy. It has to start with that, and then we can talk about policy.
Ms. Bronson: It is obvious that everyone has to be at the table in order to elaborate a national food strategy. I tried to underline, in my remarks, that there is a lot of innovation happening right now, in communities across this country, by people who are feeding the hungry, getting healthy food to their communities and starting nutrition programs. We have a situation where the federal government is missing in action. The municipalities are there. The provinces are there. In many cases, the private sector is there. The farmers are there. The community people are there. The teachers, the nurses, and all kinds of people are there, but there is no national strategy.
I do think it is the role of the federal government to create an enabling environment where these many innovations can flourish. There are countless ways of doing that through regulation, funding, incentives, programs, and all kinds of things that you are very familiar with.
I think that the richness of a national food strategy will be measured by the depth of the discussions that lead to it. I think we have developed a culture, in this country, where agricultural policy does not have civil society at the table. The non-profit sector is not very visible at the table of agricultural policy-making in this country, and that needs to be addressed. We cannot contemplate a national food strategy where the people who form the membership of Food Secure Canada are not at the table. We simply will not get something that is comprehensive and well thought through because those people have a lot of wisdom to bring to the table.
Senator Eaton: I am absolutely stunned by what you have to say. We have been sitting here for six months and have listened to the pulse people, the chicken people, the turkey people, the hog people, the grain growers, universities, and people dealing with our trade issues abroad. To insinuate that we have not been doing enough when we are trying to get into the TPP, dealing with Korea and Japan about beef, and doing other things, is, I think, appalling.
Go to Africa, if you want to see small farms with little technology where no genetically modified seeds are used. They are doing a great job at feeding themselves. Why is India caught up to us or why are they feeding more people now? Why is China feeding more people now? It is because they have big industrial complexes; they are using their own genetically modified brands; and they are learning how to deal with draught.
What I have heard from the four of you, or certainly from the two ladies, is a terrible comment on what is really one of the best agricultural sectors in the world. I find it shocking that you should be so uninformed as to what is going on in the Canadian agricultural sector. You were not here the past weeks to listen to people who specialize in soil and water and how to treat. We heard about hogs and a lot about innovation. It is really shaming to talk the way you two talk.
The Deputy Chair: Senator Eaton, do you have a question?
Senator Eaton: No, I do not have a question.
The Deputy Chair: Our witnesses are here to make their presentation.
Senator Eaton: No, I know that.
The Deputy Chair: You can disagree with them.
Senator Eaton: Right.
The Deputy Chair: They should also be given the floor.
Senator Eaton: I find it very difficult. Thank you, Mr. Chair.
The Deputy Chair: If you are finished, I will give the floor to the Honourable Senator Maltais.
Senator Maltais: Welcome, ladies and gentlemen. I am very happy you are here today. I will not venture into technical matters. I will put myself into the consumer's shoes.
You talked about food strategy. Consumers are the ones at the end of the food strategy chain, correct?
Have you seen a whole movie on television with commercial breaks every 12 or 13 minutes? During the first break, we are told about a type of yogurt that aids digestion. At the second break, that yogurt is light and has no cholesterol. At the third break, it is even lighter than the previous one.
Consumers want to eat quality local products. How are they to make sense of it all? You are talking about food strategy. I think that a communications strategy must accompany the food strategy. Allow me to tell you about one of my experiences.
Last week, I was watching four of my grandchildren. It was my turn to make dinner. I had some nice cod — not from Newfoundland but from North Shore. I cooked a meal my mother used to make: potatoes with mixed vegetables. While I was cooking, the children watched cartoons on television. I told them dinner was ready. They all came to the table. The eldest said: "Grandpa, we cannot eat this fish because it is seal food; that is what they teach us at school." The second one asked me whether I had any broccoli. I said that I did not have broccoli, but I had carrots and turnips. Was that not good enough? He said we could not eat that. The only thing left was tap water. Another grandchild asked me whether I was sure there was no fluorine in the water.
How is a grandfather supposed to make sense of it all when he tries to provide his grandchildren with a good meal made with healthy products?
Standards are different at school and at home. In the end, I just took them to McDonalds. That was a unanimous decision.
How are consumers supposed to make sense of it all? I am putting myself in the shoes of a father or a mother at the grocery store. The first five rows contain very light foods that are very good in terms of cholesterol. The last five rows seem to be poisonous. Canada does have 33 million consumers, but we do not all have a doctorate in nutrition.
How can we make sure that we are eating locally grown, quality products that make overweight people lose weight, underweight people gain weight, and do not have cholesterol? Could you explain that to me?
The Deputy Chair: Who would like to try to answer this question?
Mr. Etsell: Well, I agree that communication has to be a big part of any strategy. For a long time there has been a reason that we are called "producers" — it is because we focus on producing. The need going forward is for farmers to be marketers as well and to explain to the consumer what they are producing.
There is a growing trend in this country. People have moved away not only from the farm but also away from their ability to cook. We found this out a few years ago when we were building our house. We had a kitchen designer come in and help us to design the kitchen. She said that in Vancouver they are designing townhouses and condos without kitchens and that they basically have only a place to warm food. One thing we have built into our strategy is that there needs to be an objective coming out of the education system so that students come out of there knowing how to at least prepare six wholesome, nutritious meals. That sounds like a small number but, by golly, there are people who do not even know how to boil water. It starts there.
We are so dependent upon highly processed foods. If we can get people back to the basic ability to cook nutritious food, it would go a long way.
Senator Maltais: I agree with you. Proper advertisement is needed. Quebec cheese producers have a commercial on television that covers all cheeses made by small producers. I assume they are good — otherwise they would not be advertised together. That introduces people to products whose quality I assume is assured, and Quebec producers are renowned for certain kinds of cheese.
Could the same not be done in the case of cereals, vegetables and so on? Could Canadians not be told that a particular group is good for them?
Consumers must be able to make sense of things somehow. Unfortunately, all marketing companies always have the best product, even if it is harmful to health. Antifreeze is not put into alcohol, as it is harmful. It is put into the car.
Consumers have to navigate through a wide range of products, and they often end up with my meal in spite of their efforts. I think small producers are important. We know that Canadians want to eat Canadian. They have told us so themselves. I think that a strategy of certifying food products as Canadian — be it by an association, the government or someone with authority — would provide Canadians with a wonderful guide.
Do you know that there are about 300 or 400 food guides in Canada? How are people supposed to make sense of things? One is good, and one is bad. We must absolutely establish some sort of a standard when it comes to Canadian food products that are healthy and made in Canada, and Canadians will buy them. They need a guide.
Earlier, you talked about schools. I guarantee that, if you were to go to the same school, you would realize that the nutrition guides provided in each of the five years are different. We need someone to tell us what is good, and that is what we are headed toward. Locally grown products are either good or bad. Canadians should be provided with that information. At the end of the day, Canadians are the ones who make the whole chain possible, yourselves included.
The Deputy Chair: I would like to give our witnesses an opportunity to respond to the comments.
Ms. Paskal: One of the priorities that came out of the People's Food Policy was a children and food strategy. I would echo what Mr. Etsell was saying, which is that we are proposing that there be food literacy taught from junior kindergarten straight through to high school. That would be accompanied by larger kitchens in schools where children can do rotations in kitchens and school gardens so that when they get out of school they know how to access and prepare healthy food. That would be matched with some kind of contact with local farmers so that they can see how food grows. There have been many great examples of that across the country. There are tremendously rich school food programs.
The other aspect of the children and food strategy that we are proposing has to do with the federally funded school meal program. Canada is the only G8 country that does not have a federally funded school meal program to provide healthy meals and snacks to children across the country in our schools. We would say that is the first priority of the children and food strategy but matched with the food literacy skills, so that any income you have, you will be able to have food in schools so you are not going to school hungry, and you will leave school being able to prepare healthy food.
Senator Plett: On that issue of a national food strategy in the schools, you are talking about other G8 countries. In most G8 countries, their school systems, I believe, are being run nationally. In Canada, ours are being run provincially. It makes it very difficult. They have to be provincial programs.
Ms. Paskal: I think that people are looking at cost-sharing programs. It would be a federal and provincial cost-sharing program. We are seeing the programs have municipal participation and provincial participation and parent participation and private sector participation, but no federal participation.
Senator Plett: However, the school system is not a federal system. If there is provincial participation, if Manitoba has this program going, and I applaud them if they do, we cannot expect the federal government to be part of that because the provinces do not want federal interference in their school systems. What is wrong with just the provinces having a system? Why does it need federal participation? Why is it not acceptable just for the municipalities and the parents and the provinces and the school divisions to have that system? Why would it be any better if the federal government got involved in it?
Ms. Paskal: At the moment, it is piecemeal and incomplete. There are many parts of the country where there are no school meal programs. If there were a federal standard and federal participation, then it could be guaranteed to be across the country.
Senator Plett: Thank you.
Mr. Etsell: I agree with you. We call it a national food strategy, but it is really meant to be a framework that is set up nationally so that we are all rowing in the same direction. That does not preclude the provinces or the regions or the local governments from taking that framework and developing. We are not going to have one strategy; we were going to have strategies. We want to make sure, though, that we were all rowing in the same direction. You are absolutely right. In Canada's case, education is funded and managed by the provinces, and that is where those programs need to be managed. It is happening. We have got a terrific program in B.C., and it is working very well.
Mr. McInnes: I would share that view. The concept that we have advocated is not necessarily to have one national plan. These are ideas to streamline government policy and regulation behind how to create opportunities.
I would just add one small point. Government certainly has a role and can be facilitating, but we should not underestimate the power of entrepreneurship in order to deliver on this. For example, we have met with an entrepreneurial couple in Toronto. They are feeding 6,000 school kids a day. The name of the company is Real Food for Real Kids. They have healthy foods that they source directly from some 29 to 30 local producers — horticulture, beef and other products. They are doing so well that they are actually expanding their opportunity to take-home meals for families. It is healthy food. The parents know what they are eating. This is another way to develop a new supply chain. Government is not involved. Now, they may have some regulatory issues that stand in their way, but the point is that I think we need to understand how these new supply chains can be created by focusing on the health and the food connection.
Senator Merchant: Thank you so much for being here tonight and talking to us about what I call the food issues.
We are the Agriculture Committee, and we are also part of the government. I am glad that you are here before us but, with great respect, when we talk about the food issues that you have presented to us here in Canada, I think by and large these are really societal issues and lifestyle issues. I do not know how much government can really do. I worry sometimes that government wants to have its tentacles in every little aspect of our lives. I think we are able ourselves to try to also put some of the blame and the responsibility on ourselves. I do not know what government can really do. I think government is doing many things, and the agricultural sector is doing things, as are the producers. I do not really know that there is much more to say except that we have our own problems, as they have been already underlined by other people.
Then we talk about global issues. We constantly hear that the population of the world is growing quickly, and again there is nothing we can do to stop the growth of population. However, I imagine that you would want us to think about how we can maximize the benefit for Canadians, for our agriculture, and at the same time be looking at how we can responsibly make the transition to less wasteful agricultural practices or perhaps questionable agricultural practices.
I want to talk about two things. We talk about the food. We in Canada grow a lot of beef. We know that beef, for instance, is a very inefficient use of energy and land. It is 4.51 times less efficient than soy, and soy is the gold standard. We make a choice. We do not want to eat soy and we do want to eat beef, but this makes it difficult for the rest of the world to eat the way that we want them to eat and to buy the things that we want to make. That is one question. What are we prepared to do to solve this kind of problem?
Secondly, when we talk about biofuel, there seems to be a trend in Europe and in North America for the use of biofuels, and in that way, in the last few years, we have promoted the production of ethanol. We have seen grain prices, and especially corn prices, go up, and so corn products are more expensive and it is not possible for other populations to buy our products. We have seen our governments support, for instance, and even subsidize the production of biofuels.
How can we talk on the one hand about wanting to help the world and, on the other hand, wanting to improve profitability and efficiency for our farmers? Somebody talked about morality and the morality issues. I just wanted to know just a little bit what you want us to do and how you want us to change and how we can handle this.
Ms. Bronson: There are many different aspects to your question and what you have said.
One thing that we have not talked about here today, and I feel we have been a bit remiss, is the coming visit of the UN special rapporteur on the right to food in Canada. He will be in Canada from May 6 to May 16 and will be looking at how the Government of Canada has met or not met its obligations on realizing the right to food for its citizens, and also looking at how Canada has met its international obligations with regard to the right to food. Those obligations stem from Canada's signature on the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and it is quite well spelled out internationally what we should be doing. That, of course, also relates to the previous question about should there or should there not be a federal role in ensuring that kids do not go to school hungry, for instance.
He will be doing that inquiry. I really encourage members of this committee to look at his website and the many interesting reports he has already published, particularly on the questions of biofuels and international obligations on the right to food, which I think are very interesting.
Of course, these are very complex issues that you have raised, and I would not be someone who would pretend to have all the answers. In some ways, it gets back to the earlier questions that were raised around technology and trade. I hope we are not coming across as either anti-technology or anti-trade. It is a question of what trade and technology policies we need to put in place and how those need to be carefully assessed.
In fact, the subsidization and expansion of the ethanol market internationally had quite devastating consequences on the right to food internationally. It threw hundreds of thousands of people into hunger. I think that could have been prevented with some careful planning and forecasting about what the likely consequences of those subsidies would be.
These things need to be carefully considered, the impacts on domestic and international markets. It is not easy to marry them in everyone's best interest. As someone who has worked internationally for decades, it strikes me as obvious that there is only one planet that we are sharing and that a food strategy that would stop at our national borders would be very short-sighted.
Mr. Etsell: You are right; population growth is a societal issue. The poverty we see in Canada, which causes two million people to go hungry, is a societal issue, but it is the context in which we have to operate. Certainly, the world population growth presents a tremendous opportunity for Canadian agriculture, and it is within that context that I look at that issue. I am still reeling from Senator Eaton's comments. There are so many pluses in terms of how Canada is positioned from an agricultural perspective. We have resources that are second to none in the world.
Senator Eaton: Yes, but you did not mention that in any of your —
Mr. Etsell: They are the envy of the world, and they are setting us up in a very good position going forward. That is why we need a strategy, so that we do not lose the opportunity that is before us.
What is the role of government? Industry itself has a huge responsibility in terms of charting the course and setting the strategy, but government has a role to play in terms of creating the environment that will enable that strategy to be implemented. If we work together, we can realize the full potential, which I think, as I have said, is absolutely tremendous.
Senator Mercer: I appreciate all the witnesses coming before this committee, especially when we are doing this study. If I do not agree with you, I will express that when we are writing our report. I will not attack you while you are here or disagree with you publicly.
The Deputy Chair: Do you have a comment or a question?
Senator Mercer: I have a couple of questions and comments.
Mr. Chair, there is a political divide here tonight, which has not been here before, with respect to what we are about here. Suddenly we are talking about our not being involved, when the whole process of the study was to find out how we could help.
A couple of you mentioned the federal government's role as a facilitator. Indeed, certain responsibilities are provincial and certain responsibilities are business, but if no one is bringing everyone together here and nothing is getting done, then we are all suffering. The agricultural industry is suffering, the consumers are suffering, food safety is suffering, and our international reputation as a food trader is suffering.
Do you see that the federal government, both nationally and internationally — and this is not particularly this government but any federal government — has failed in its job as a facilitator of coordinating our agricultural policy?
Mr. McInnes: There has been a long history of setting out a five-year plan, such as Growing Forward, to help plan agricultural policy and funding, as well as risk management programs, and that is under renewal right now. There are many fora that governments, federally and provincially, have created to try to bring players together.
The way we view the world is that there really is, if you imagine, a horizontal and a vertical line. Horizontally, governments can try to link agendas and create a dynamic, competitive marketplace. Some efforts are under way to do that and we are seeing some good successes. On the other hand, we are seeing that supply chains themselves, with some exceptions, really are not working at their optimum, and how they can work in more of a vertical line. These two pieces need to come together, and that is the essence, from our standpoint, of a more robust food systems approach, that all these players need to work differently together, which includes just having a dialogue on key issues that are confronting them. From that, how can we improve our regulatory and innovation environments, and how can we be more collaborative along those chains?
Our view is that this is the combination required to get it right. If we do get it right, then, as has been implied elsewhere, our potential as a food provider in the world is magnificent. We should be aiming high. Why should we not be doubling the value of our exports by 2025? We have the resources, we have the capacity, we have the intellectual know-how, we have smart people, we have entrepreneurs, and we have an excellent regulatory structure. This is what we need to deploy. A strategy that helps to bring these pieces together is really what we are talking about.
Mr. Etsell: I do not think it is so much a matter of whether someone has been doing something wrong. In 2003, the federal government decided that it was time to start working on five-year plans. Prior to that, a lot of agricultural policy was developed ad hoc. In 2003 we had our first five-year round, the APF, and now we are in our second Growing Forward.
What we are learning is that these five-year planning windows are not long enough. We have to take a longer view. Sure, governments will still work within five-year budget windows, but you have to have both. You have to have that long-term vision. It is not a matter of whether something has been done wrong; it is about how we do things better.
Senator Mercer: Our American friends have a farm bill that is due to expire in another couple of months, which is a major concern of the agriculture industry in the United States, as it is for many people on Capitol Hill in Washington. However, on the use of the farm bill, of consolidating and bringing together policies that affect agriculture from all avenues into one bill, establish some guidelines and, in certain cases, some incentives and assistance that are all contained in the farm bill, we have had discussions at this committee over the years.
Senator Mahovlich and I have been on this committee for quite some time. We are the longest-serving members of the committee. We have heard discussions of this before, that we need something similar to the U.S. farm bill, where we lay before Parliament — and we may not need legislation in this country because we run our government differently. However, we may need a longer range. You said the five-year plan is probably too short.
Do you think something similar to the farm bill would help us bring all of the things affecting agriculture together and lay it out? We can call it a national food strategy, or whatever you want, but it is bringing together not only farmers and processors but also everyone, including people in environment, in food safety, in veterinary medicine, et cetera, and all the things that come into play in the production of good, quality, safe food for Canadians and for the world.
Mr. Etsell: Canadian farmers look with envy, to some extent, to what is happening south of the border. I question whether or not the U.S. economy will be able to sustain that type of approach.
As someone who has operated in the U.S. in the poultry industry, the U.S. focus is largely on the grain sector with the expectation that the rest of the benefits will flow down into the livestock sectors.
I like the approach that we are advocating, which is really trying to remove the pillared approach that we have taken and, as you say, bringing the different stakeholders, whether it be health, education, the environment, together to have the discussion. It really goes to what Mr. McInnes is talking about in terms of a food system approach. That would be healthy.
Ms. Bronson: If we are going to have a national food strategy, then it really does have to deal with the issue of hunger and with the people in this country who do not have enough to eat and who cannot provide. It is impossible for them to provide a healthy diet for themselves and for their families when they are subsisting on welfare or public funds, if they are suffering from a handicap or need government support.
I think that has to be front and centre. It is not acceptable that in a country as wealthy and as well endowed as Canada, two million Canadians are food insecure.
Mr. McInnes: We should not underestimate the power of objectives and metrics to help drive whatever the objectives are that are set at the end of day. We are seeing this happen across the retail and processing sector. For example, some of the major chains are sourcing seafood from 100 per cent sustainable sources by 2013 or 2015. We are seeing the U.S. dairy industry have an emissions target to lower their emissions across their supply chain by 25 per cent by 2020.
The list goes on. The Canola Council of Canada has its own set of targets here in this country. The power of a target and an objective ensures transparency. It allows everyone to understand how they can buy into it. You can then start aligning policy or identify what stands in the way of hitting those targets, and then people are accountable. That is a very effective and powerful public policy objective.
Ms. Paskal: We are in a moment of tremendous opportunity in terms of a role for federal facilitation because there is so much momentum toward a national food strategy. It is the first time this ever happened. For instance, in the last federal election all five parties were talking about a national food policy or strategy. Now there is discussion internally of a national food and farming strategy. Our three groups are three of the groups advancing visions for a future for food in Canada that takes a food systems approach. I think it is inevitable that we will be carrying through with this kind of national discussion on what it means to build a better future for food in Canada that takes into account all the issues that we have talked about today. There is a real strong role for federal facilitation to ensure that that happens well, that it is inclusive and participatory, and that it has a long view and looks at all the strengths that we have in Canada.
We have these three groups that have done a tremendous amount of work. Together we have probably eight years of work behind us on trying to build visions for national food strategies. I have taken note of some of the things that have emerged as commonalities. Excuse my wording if it is not the way that you would present it, but we all take a food systems approach; we all emphasize environmentally sustainable production as a key goal of Canadian food production, one among many. We would all like to see more Canadians eating Canadian food, and we would all like to see healthier food as a key underpinning for prevention of chronic disease. Those are already four very ambitious, guiding directions that could help set a tone for a national food and farming strategy that would be inclusive and would help get us to a better place in this country.
Senator Mahovlich: When you make change, people get their arms up and say, "Wait a minute." There are farmers and families in the Holland Marsh who have been farming for hundreds of years. Do you think they want the government to tell them how to farm now? They will put their arms out and say, "Just keep the government out of this," because they are making money. They are well off. Within 10 square miles of the Holland Marsh, you can feed the whole of Canada. I cannot believe that two million people are starving in Canada with all the food that we have in this country. That is hard for me to believe.
Change always comes. There is change every day. You have a lot of hurdles, from what I can see, if you are going to try to change things. The country of France subsidizes many of their farms. Do they regulate the farmers? Do the farmers in France have regulations that they have to follow? Can anyone answer that question?
Mr. Etsell: They do. They have many regulations to follow, but not unlike us. We have environmental regulations that we have to follow. They do in France as well, absolutely. They can only have so much production per acre when it comes to livestock. They are not regulation-free by any means. In fact, a lot of their green payments are tied to producing in a certain manner, just to answer your question.
Ms. Bronson: In general — and this is true of Canada and it is true internationally — the problem with hunger is not a problem of supply. The problem is not that there is not enough food. The problem is distribution.
Senator Mahovlich: We do have enough food?
Ms. Bronson: There is plenty of food. The same is true internationally as well. There are close to two billion people internationally who are hungry. There is plenty of food on the planet to feed them. The problem is distribution. I think there is pretty much universal consensus on that.
Senator Mahovlich: This is something that we will have to change, because in Quebec, where Oka cheese has been made for over 100 years — and I think the monks started it — you will not regulate them on how to make cheese.
Ms. Bronson: I am sure they are already subjected to some kind of regulation in how they make cheese.
Senator Mahovlich: I do not know if they are regulated, but they regulate themselves. That is what the farmers do in Holland Marsh. They have found out from trial and error over the years and have regulated themselves, I think.
Mr. Etsell: In Canada, we are not regulation-free. We do have on-farm food safety programs that we have to subscribe to; we have environmental regulations that we must subscribe to, just as they do in Europe. We have to start selling the benefits of those programs and explaining to the public that we do subscribe to those standards.
The idea here is not to have a top-down strategy, a strategy that imposes upon businesses how they shall or shall not. Rather, it is an attempt to develop a vision for the industry so that if people want to participate — and hopefully they do because they see an opportunity — they will figure out their own strategy for their own business that will allow them to take advantage of the opportunities that are out there. We have already described what those are. I see it as being enabling as opposed to restricting.
Mr. McInnes: I would share the point about this not being a sector without regulations. We have a board member — a hog producer — who has had 44 new regulations imposed on her farm over the last nine years, so this is a regulatory-intensive sector. The key question, from a policy standpoint and from a strategy standpoint, is this: What are we putting in place to review regulations to understand that the regulations often have a life cycle and to understand when they should be reviewed, changed, or taken off the books so that we can have a modern regulatory structure? The work that Canada and the United States have done to try to streamline the regulatory environment between our two countries is critical to our competitiveness. This comes back to the metrics that we deploy to ensure that the regulatory structure ensures not only safe food but also a competitive, innovative environment. This is a fundamental combination that we need to get right.
Senator Maltais: I had the opportunity, along with my colleagues — Senators Buth, Mahovlich and Mercer — to visit the farm business Savoura, located in Trois-Rivières. Environment is a top priority there. They use city waste to produce gas. Only 27 per cent of their gas has to come from elsewhere.
They have no specific regulations, but in order to enter the greenhouse — and you may ask our colleagues — we had to put on special clothing. We could not touch the products. All we could do was look. However, the products in question were tomatoes; it was a production of small tomatoes. I no longer remember how many kilograms they produced per day, but it was really mind-boggling.
I found that those producers had their own regulations that were, in my opinion, much stricter than any regulations the government can impose. They had experts on site, including a remarkable biologist.
I think that it is all a matter of education. Savoura tomatoes are more expensive than any other tomatoes, yet they are sold by the tonne in Quebec and Ontario. Each day, delivery trucks leave Trois-Rivières en route to the Toronto market. They are more expensive because they are superior in quality.
The company decided to set a higher bar for itself in terms of quality and made its own regulations. However, general regulations may prevent small, medium or large producers from attaining superior quality.
That is my opinion. You do not have to agree with it. Based on what I have seen — and I have seen quite a bit — people all said that their production had standards that were superior to the government requirements.
What do you think? That is what we have experienced and seen.
The Deputy Chair: Do any witnesses want to comment?
Mr. McInnes: I would just like to echo the comment made by the senator that business industry can develop standards that are higher than those from government. In fact, major global companies and national companies here are imposing standards for food safety and quality and are putting in place audit requirements. These are shared among Nestlé, Unilever, McDonald's, Cargill and Walmart. These companies that reach right back to the farm level are creating ways to increase sustainability and improve product quality and food safety, which can accelerate way past what governments can do. I am not saying that government regulation and harmonized regulation are not priorities as well, but we must recognize that there are two different avenues, or two different dimensions, of how companies and producers are regulated or affected. It includes the private sector.
Ms. Bronson: To complete that, there is an issue of perception. Obviously, if there is no independent oversight over appropriate standards, they will not necessarily be perceived to be legitimate, particularly if a problem arises.
Senator Mercer: I think you would agree that, when something goes wrong — and something usually does go wrong at some point in time — it is government that people turn to and say, "Okay, industry did not fix it. Producers did not fix it. Processors did not fix it. The marketplace did not fix it. It needs to be fixed." They look to government to do this. If we are not at the table and involved in the whole process and have no concept of what is going on, it is when there is a crisis that we are called on. A prime example is that we have no expertise around this table in beef farming, but when the BSE crisis hit, this was one of the places they came. This was one of the committees they came to talk to. We all learned together what the problem was, and we made suggestions. I get nervous when people keep saying that the answers are industry-driven, especially driven by the Walmarts and the Cargills of the world. The industry is important. Everyone is important, but when it hits the fan, everyone stands back and says, "Government, what will you do to help?" If government has no plan and has had absolutely no involvement in the industry, it is pretty hard to help.
Mr. Etsell: That is precisely why all three organizations are quite delighted to be here and talking to you. We do recognize that government needs to be at the table.
Mr. McInnes: I would add that this speaks to the importance of having some clear ideas and policy around how we treat traceability. When a food outbreak arises, such as we saw last summer in the case of Spanish cucumbers, it can wipe out the prospects of a sector pretty quickly. That incident killed 30 and sickened, I think, about 3,000 people.
Implementing traceability programs is very costly and complicated, and we need industry and government at the table so that we can create a competitive opportunity in this country to position ourselves to sell more product abroad and to protect consumers here as well.
This is where a strategy creates the discussion as to the most important issues that need to be on the table to position Canada for success, domestically and internationally.
The Deputy Chair: Thank you, Mr. McInnes. If no other senators wish to ask questions, I would like to thank you very much for your presentations. We will certainly take them into account.
I apologize for being unable to begin at 5:00 p.m., but as I told you earlier, the committees cannot meet while the Senate is sitting without a special permission.
Thank you for your patience. Have a good trip back home.
(The committee adjourned.)