In my articles, I have spoken at length about the need for a national strategy for the food industry in Canada. Much needs to be done. A lot of work would be necessary on the part of people involved with the food industry – so much work that some must be asking “Is it worth the effort?” My answer is “Yes.” Let me explain why.
Feeding the world
As I have mentioned, as we rapidly progress to a global population of nine billion in the next few decades, we will need to maximize our food production globally in every country or several billion people could be in famine mode with potential associated violence. Canada has one of the largest endowments of productive land (third globally after Australia and Kazakhstan), fresh water (third globally after the Congo and Greenland), and access to oceans. We can be a major player in feeding the world population that must be fed.
In addition, we have a very diverse industry, with well-developed sectors related to red meat, poultry, seafood, dairy, horticulture, grains and oilseeds. We cover virtually every aspect of food production except tropical crops.
Food and health
Along with the population growth, we are facing a growing human health challenge. In the developed countries, the population is aging rapidly. Along with that comes increased health care costs. In lesser-developed countries, lack of food causes health problems related to poor nutrition. In developing countries, the emergence of some of the chronic diseases we have faced in the developed world such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and obesity are becoming more common. These can be positively impacted by diet and nutrition.
Canada has many food crops that are seen more and more as having positive impacts on such chronic diseases. For example, barley has just had a health claim approved indicating that it reduces blood cholesterol. There are similar submissions related to flax, and high-protein foods containing soy are under consideration at this time. We have found many healthy aspects related to fish and seafood. All of these commodities are better suited to the Canadian climate than almost anywhere else in the world.
Much innovation has taken place to improve the health and nutritional profile of other foods, for example omega-3 eggs, and to extract natural, healthy ingredients from our food commodities for use in processed foods. Canada can become a leader in this area.
Canada is seen globally as a clean, fresh, healthy nation. Our environment gives us this image, but it is an image that is valid in reality. Food produced in Canada is well accepted all over the world. This makes Canadian food a “brand” that people are very open to and willing to buy.
In addition, Canadian cuisine and food products are distinctive and are increasingly becoming better known around the world. Whether it’s P.E.I. lobster, B.C. salmon, Quebec cheese or Niagara wines, Canadian food is becoming recognized around the world as being very desirable. If you attend the Canadian Culinary Book Awards you will also hear references to such things as “Boreal cuisine,” “Maritime cuisine,” and “Quebec cuisine,” all of which are becoming well known and respected. This, again, helps to position the Canadian food “brand” as very desirable in the eyes of consumers.
Finally, the food industry with all of its parts is the largest sector of the Canadian economy. But our trade balance is losing ground as we increasingly import more processed food products and continue to export primarily bulk commodities. If we could maximize our processing industry and export more to developed and developing countries globally, we would increase our capital investment in Canada by food companies, create more jobs, increase tax revenues and in general add more value to the Canadian economy.
We are well positioned to make that happen. The Canadian grains sector is one of the largest in the world. The Canadian red meat sector is of global size, as is the Canadian seafood sector. The Canadian horticulture sector – focused on certain types of fruits and vegetables – is also large and well know. In addition, the Greater Toronto Area’s food processing cluster is the second largest food cluster in North America after Los Angeles and now ahead of Chicago.
We also have a research and innovation structure related to agriculture, fisheries and food processing that is noteworthy in terms of the number of globally recognized universities and research and commercialization centres. And our supply sectors such as food packaging and others are very strong.
Based on all of this, I certainly believe that the effort to bring the Canadian food industry together and create a national strategy for what I like to call “Canada Food Inc.” is well worth the effort and deserving of strong industry and government support. We could become the world leader in safe, healthy food that is sustainably produce, and lead the way in innovation in all aspects of food science and food production. It would have a fantastic positive effect on our economy.
Gary Fread is president of Fread & Associates Ltd., consultants to the food industry. He has spent 25 years in management positions in the food processing industry, with a background in sales, logistics, purchasing and technical areas. He has worked with Procter & Gamble, Campbell Soup and Morrison Lamothe, and is the past president and CEO of the Guelph Food Technology Centre. He is active in many food industry associations and organizations, serving on the boards of several. Contact him at [email protected]