Evolving global challenges offer great opportunities for Canada’s food industry, if we can focus on a national strategic plan
I’ve expended a lot of time and words over the past couple of years trying to sell the idea of a Canadian National Food Strategy, what would be involved, and how to make it happen. I truly believe it can be made to happen and that it would lead to huge success for the Canadian food industry…agriculture, fisheries, processing, and the key supply industries that are a crucial part of the industry value chain. So…what? The world is clearly faced with some challenges over the future decades, and food is going to be a key issue.
We are faced with a growing market headed toward a population of nine billion people by 2050 and the need for a 50-per-cent increase in global food production. This will put great pressure on the global food supply and lead to increasing prices of food, potential for increasing levels of hunger and starvation, and potential for an increasing threat of conflicts based on the need for food. All of that in the face of increasing pressure on the necessary resources to provide that food.
We are faced with a looming healthcare crisis with a rapidly aging population due to longer lifespan, and with it, rapidly rising healthcare costs and chronic diseases in both developed and developing economies – but different ones. And nutrition and diet is a major part of the answer, with research needed to help us change our basic diet to a generally healthier one and an increased use of functional foods and natural health products. And the food industry is the key to that.
We are facing an energy crisis as we start to run out of carbon-based fuels, with a resulting increase in fuel prices, further driving up the cost of food production. As we look for alternatives, we are using more food commodities to make ethanol and biodiesel, a move I can’t bring myself to believe is good. We need more focus on things like cellulosic ethanol, solar and wind energy, energy from waste and bio-digesters. All of those types of energy could become a key element of the food value chain broadly while not decreasing the amount of food commodities we can produce.
And we are facing an environmental crisis globally. Read a book like Laurence Smith’s The World in 2050, and one gets a scary, but justified, view of how things will evolve…and quickly. Agriculture accounts for a significant percentage of total groundwater usage. Add to that the rest of the food value chain and it skyrockets. Post-consumer food waste is as high as 40 per cent (cited in work done by the George Morris Centre). But, we aren’t focused enough as an industry on reducing water use, reducing waste generated, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and improving our carbon footprint. Climate change may completely reshape the world of food.
Meeting evolving needs
There is also an economic opportunity for the food industry that exists in all of these challenges. We have a growing market for food and a huge food infrastructure in Canada. There is increasing levels of disposable income in developing economies like Latin America, East Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia and the Middle East (as well as evolving food industries there, admittedly). There is a growing appreciation of fine foods and the “culinary experience,” ethnic cuisines and global fusion of cuisines. The opportunity is to quit focusing primarily on commodity exports and focus more on adding value in Canada, with the resulting benefits to our economy – including jobs and tax revenues – and then exporting the food as well as consuming more of it “at home” in the face of increasing imports from developing countries.
I have come to realize that we have all the resources, capacity and skills in Canada to become the world leader in providing food that will help meet the evolving needs. We just need more strategic focus on a national basis to make it happen; hence the need for a Canadian National Food Strategy.
We can, over the next decade, become the global leader in the global food industry. That is our destination. We do that by creating food that is globally competitive and financially and environmentally sustainable by putting aligned focus on: increasing research and innovation (in products, processes, sustainability); increasing the productivity of production, processing and distribution; and increased sustainability (food safety and a secure value chain, environmentally sound practices at all levels, and socially responsible practices at all levels). We must do all that collaboratively across the whole industry and value chains. And, yes, each sector will need to do things slightly differently due to their particular situation, but all of the action needs to be aligned with that national goal of becoming the global leader.
The infrastructure is there to make it happen – including the industry associations and the value chain roundtables of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada – but we need to knock down most of the silos, whether they are commodity based, industry level based (i.e. agriculture vs. processing), or provincially based. We all need to work together within the framework of a Canadian National Food Strategy.
Come on, let’s do it! We CAN do it, CANada!
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]