In February the Conference Board of Canada (CBC) presented The Canadian Food Summit 2012 in Toronto. A variety of “national and international experts” was convened “to discuss the latest research, share insights from other jurisdictions, and determine how to address Canada’s major food challenges and opportunities.” That included dealing with the implications of global demand for food growing 70 per cent in the next decade; ensuring a safe, secure and sustainable food supply for Canadians; and determining the optimal level of regulatory oversight for the Canadian food supply chain.
A made-in-Canada strategy
During the conference, the “challenges and opportunities” dialogue quickly morphed into a discussion of what a Canadian food strategy should be, and it remained the theme for the rest of the meeting. Unfortunately, the organizers failed to recognize that any discussion of a national food strategy must include the provinces and territorial governments, as well as the views of large multi-national players in the global food supply chain, such as Cargill and Walmart.
While both Galen Weston, executive chairman of Loblaw Companies Ltd., and Maple Leaf Foods president and CEO Michael McCain provided interesting insights on trends in food retailing and food processing, the insights of non-Canadian multi-nationals are also needed in developing a food strategy. An organization such as the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization is also needed to provide a global humanitarian perspective on the subject.
Progress won’t be easy
A number of invited speakers gave interesting and, at times, provocative presentations on what a Canadian food strategy should include, but it quickly became apparent that getting national consensus won’t be easy. Big and small food processors differ substantially on a number of things, including what an optimized regulatory program should be. Weston gave an indication of how polarized the differences are between big and small food retailers when he quipped that food vendors at farmers’ markets need to be more effectively regulated before they “kill some people.”
Other issues to consider include the ongoing battle between processed food manufacturers and the natural/organic food interests. As well, sustainability should be enshrined in any national food strategy, but the concept means significantly different things to different interest groups.
All together now
What made attending the Food Summit worthwhile for me was receiving All Together Now: Regulation and Food Industry Performance, a report published recently by the Centre for Food In Canada (CFIC), a multi-year initiative of the CBC.
The report brings together the learning from two other CFIC publications, Governing Food: Policies, Laws, and Regulations for Food in Canada, and Valuing Food: The Economic Contribution of Canada’s Food Sector, to demonstrate how regulatory interventions affect the food industry both positively and negatively. The report also makes several recommendations as to how the Canadian food regulatory system could be improved, including:
• Making the focus of regulations outcome-based;
• Incorporating independent third-party audits into the national surveillance program;
• Reducing regulatory complexity;
• Introducing performance standards into regulatory services;
• Adopting pre-market approvals from other trading partners for food additives as well as a host of foods and processes;
• Replacing the Food and Drugs Act with a new Food Act;
• Using an ombudsman to adjudicate disputes between processors and regulatory agencies; and
• Harmonizing some aspects of our food regulations with those of our major trading partners.
I highly recommend reading the full report. It can be downloaded from the CBC website at www.e-library.ca.
Dr. Ron Wasik, PhD, MBA, is president of RJW Consulting Canada Ltd. Contact him at [email protected]