Canada’s much anticipated National Food Policy was officially launched by the federal government on June 17 under the tagline “Everyone at the Table!”
Since its launch, the federal government has had a busy summer starting to divvy up the $134.4 million it pledged to the four key areas of the policy: increasing access for Canadians to healthy food, increasing and promoting Canadian-produced food; and supporting food security and reducing food waste amongst food processors and retailers.
Given the recent flurry of funding announcements for the food sector, it’s clear the Trudeau government is trying to make good on its 2015 electoral promise to strengthen Canada’s food system as we head into the next federal election in October. Although the timing of the announcements is rather hurried, it’s encouraging to see that there has been some strategy involved in the allocation of these funds, such as addressing labour shortages in the meat, mushroom and greenhouse processing industries through the Agri-Food Immigration Pilot Project and awarding $30 million from the Strategic Innovation Fund to develop a Canadian Food Innovation network to boost collaboration, innovation and commercialization in Canada’s food and beverage manufacturing sector.
Another positive indication that the federal government is grasping the importance of advancing Canada’s food and beverage manufacturing sector is the recently-released report: Made in Canada: Growing Canada’s value-added food sector from the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry. The report is the result of an extensive consultation with stakeholders, where the committee examined the comparative advantage of the Canadian value-added food sector, its capacity to generate value-added products that could meet global consumer demand while remaining competitive in the Canadian market, and what support would be needed for industry stakeholders in such areas as technology, marketing, environmental certification and intellectual property.
The report highlights a bright future for Canadian food and beverage manufacturing. “The untapped potential of Canada’s value-added food sector presents an opportunity to increase international and interprovincial trade, inspire innovation, and break down barriers to economic growth across the country. While the food processing sector is already one of the country’s largest employers, there is plenty of room to grow,” the report says.
The report makes nine recommendations to strengthen Canada’s value-added food industry, which in addition to addressing labour shortages includes removing barriers to interprovincial trade (including upgrading transportation infrastructure), supporting innovation and competitiveness through the development of a supercluster for food innovation, actively engaging with trading partners to bolster an open and rules-based approach to international trade, as well as funding an effective global marketing program to increase the value of the Canada brand.
The report also recommends that the federal government establish a permanent and independent panel of industry experts and other stakeholders to advise regulators.
It will be interesting to see if additional government funding announcements align with any of these recommendations. What’s been announced so far is a step in the right direction, but it’s critical the momentum isn’t lost.