Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, Canada’s entire food system has experienced a series of shocks: the almost complete collapse of the foodservice sector, the disruption of supply chains, the impact of border closures, strains on labour availability, the additional costs associated with Covid-19 protections and more recently, the arbitrary fees that have been imposed by some of Canada’s largest grocery retailers,” states Kathleen Sullivan, CEO of Food and Beverage Canada in her latest policy column in Food in Canada Magazine. “These shocks have destabilized the entire food system and, with that, Canada’s food sovereignty and the ability of our agri-food sector to contribute to Canada’s economic recovery.”
Food and beverage is Canada’s largest manufacturing sector, employing more people than any of its counterparts. Despite that, on any given day, the sector is short 10 per cent of its labour force and is facing a retirement cliff due to Canada’s aging workforce. By 2025, the industry will need up to 65,000 more people — people we don’t have.
There is also an innovation deficit. The OECD ranks Canada just 20th among developed countries in food manufacturing R&D investment. The result is that 83 per cent of the new products on our grocery shelves are not from this country.
And directly working against us is a retail sector that is overly concentrated. Today, just five retail banners control over 80 per cent of Canada’s retail food sales.
This leads to the obvious next questions for the federal government:
• Who in the federal government has responsibility for the entire food system?
• Who understands the interconnection of all its different parts and who is examining its critical pressure points?
• Finally, who is developing the policies and measures to ensure we have an entire food system that is strong and sustainable?
The answer: no one. Today, issues impacting our critical food supply are divided across many different departments — Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), Health Canada, Transport Canada, Global Affairs, Environment and Climate Change, Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC), Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) and more.
Canada needs a renewed commitment to strengthen our entire food system
The federal government, as well as provincial and territorial counterparts, need to rethink how we regulate and how we develop policies and programs that impact Canada’s food system. We need to recognize that all parts of the food system are integrated and that pressure on any one part impacts the whole.
In the context of Covid-19, our current fragmented approach to food supply left Canada without an integrated emergency response plan for the full food system and it raised significant risks for Canada’s food sovereignty. We cannot let this happen again.
Canada also needs to address those issues that will prevent economic recovery across the food system.
Here is what is needed, if food and beverage manufacturers are to recover from past challenges and start building resilience now for an uncertain future.
• Address the retirement and growth-based employment gap of up to 65,000 people by 2025 AND the immediate workforce shortage of 10 per cent with a National Workforce Action Plan.
• Solve the long-standing reluctance to embrace innovation — a critical part of business competitiveness — by creating a $150 million Innovation Adoption Fund.
• Tackle the 80+ per cent Canadian market control by just five retail banners with a Grocery Code of Conduct.
What needs to happen next? Engage leaders in the food and beverage manufacturing industry, collaborate with associations and educate civil servants. Most importantly, establish a central federal government authority on Canada’s food supply chain to take a coordinated approach to policies and programs.
For more information, or to get involved, contact FBC-ABC. Visit: https://fbc-abc.com or call 613-402-3495
Kathleen Sullivan, CEO, Food and Beverage Canada — Aliments et boissons Canada
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