National Newswatch

Getting governments onside will be key.

 

Ottawa—The biggest challenge facing the Canada 2020 team working to make the Canada Brand on food products a global hit is ensuring governments get the message and perform their parts.

A two-day conference here in early November showed the agrifood sector generally concurs on the need to grow export demand for Canadian-produced foods and that it would be good if we processed more of what we grow. Doing so would create many jobs and lots of prosperity in both urban and rural Canada.

The plan is to be unveiled Dec. 3, two days before the new Parliament opens and the proposals will be presented to the Trudeau government and the other political parties in Ottawa. Provincial governments will be hearing all about it as well.

“Protecting the country’s food brand needs to be a pillar of the next policy agenda,” says David McInnes, the Canadian 2020 senior fellow and former president of the Canadian Agriculture Policy Institute.

The two-day conference brought together more than 200 people from across the food and agriculture spectrum. Thanks to a series of meetings held across the country during the past year, most ideas for improving the Canada Brand reputation has already been discussed.

The conference panels and dialogue focused on how the players in the agrifood system can work together better and get government to understand the economic benefits of a booming agriculture and food processing sector.

McInnes said Canada has to realize many other countries have aspirations to be a leading international food supplier. “As well, societal and marketplace expectations are rising for everyone in response to profoundly challenging food issues facing the planet.

“People want reassurances that their food is safe, authentic and responsibly produced. Yet, many in this country believe that Canada’s strong food brand is unmatched in meeting this bar. So, what exactly stands behind Canada’s food brand? And, can stewarding these claims change the way we compete, collaborate and regulate?”

The cross-country discussions showed “the agrifood system faces an essential choice between remaining as a quality food producer and becoming one of the world’s most trusted suppliers,” he said.

The priority action for industry and government should be to make Canada a trusted supplier and to do that requires substantiating food brand claims so the country “is regarded internationally as a highly-responsible, global-leading, performance-driven food system,” he said. “Achieving this requires shared leadership.”

By the time the Canada Brand recommendations are released next month, a federal agriculture minister will be in place and preparing to make decisions on the National Food Policy and appointments to the Food Policy Advisory Council promised in the budget earlier this year.

They could dovetail with the Canada 2020 recommendations or complicate them with too great a focus on domestic issues like food insecurity, GM crops and pesticides, which are social policy not agrifood production issues, attendees to the Canadian Brand conference said.

The government also has to realize its international policy actions could come at a price for farmers and food producers. At the same government inaction has hurt farmers such as ongoing Italian ban on Canadian durum, which the government has done little about.

One issue governments must deal with is the growing scrutiny of modern food production, which McInnes describes as staggering. “A plethora of global and

corporate goals are trying to shift behaviours – even transform – how food systems respond. A new language is being introduced as commodity sectors, food companies, NGOs, and others, seek to produce food differently, such as embracing regenerative agriculture, the circular economy and true cost accounting. But the

scrutiny will only increase.

“While price continues to drive many food purchase decisions, customers, consumers, investors and others also want reassurances that ingredients and foods are safe and authentic, ethically and sustainably produced, nutritious and can be reliably supplied,” he said.

“Competing in the future will depend in part on how quality food systems demonstrate such responsibility – and countries are positioning themselves to do so.”

Alex Binkley is a freelance journalist and writes for domestic and international publications about agriculture, food and transportation issues. He’s also the author of two science fiction novels with more in the works.
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