After months of research, stakeholder engagement and deliberation the Standing Senate Committee On Agriculture And Forestry released the report, Made in Canada: Growing Canada’s Value-Added Food Sector. This report includes eight recommendations to develop Canada’s value-added food sector as a global leader in food innovation, transparency and sustainability.
University of Guelph experts in the agri-food sector contributed to the process of building these recommendations by presenting their research findings to the Standing Senate Committee. These experts include Dr. Evan Fraser, Director of Arrell Food Institute, Dr. Simon Somogyi, Arrell Chair in Business of Food, and Derek Vella, Manager of Guelph Food Innovation Centre (GFIC). In addition to experts attending the Senate, the University of Guelph also hosted Senators to showcase research facilities such as the Elora Dairy Research Facility and met with students, including Arrell Food Scholars.
In November 2018, Fraser emphasized in his presentation to the Senate that Canada has the potential to become a global leader in supplying trusted, safe and sustainable food. To achieve this potential, Fraser offers three key recommendations to the Senate. The first recommendation highlights the need to advance Canada’s standards in food safety and sustainability. This can be realized by building on the strong foundation of food regulatory processes that already exists here. Canada has programs that support these processes of the agri-food sector including the Environmental Farm Plan and the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, but these initiatives are currently fragmented from each other. Defining what safe, trust and sustainable mean through one coherent program such as the Canadian Agri-Food Sustainability Initiative may be a solution to this fragmentation in Canada’s food system. Once cohesion between these initiatives is established under clear and sector-wide standards, Fraser recommends that Canada will need, “to have information technology systems to ensure that Canadian food systems are transparent and cyber secure”. The last recommendation that Fraser presented to the Senate emphasizes that Canada needs to market its successes in producing and processing sustainable, safe and trusted food. There are markets around the world, particularly those consisting of affluent Asian consumers, that value these characteristics and are willing to pay more for foods that are defined by them.
Developing Canada’s food brand in markets such as China was a key point of discussion during Somogyi’s presentation to the Senate in March 2019. Valle also presented to the Senate on the same day and continued the conversation by adding that Canada can be more competitive in global markets by improving on-farm value added processing. Somogyi suggested that there is significant potential to achieve these objectives particularly in sectors such as dairy. China’s growing middle class is rapidly increasing their consumption of dairy products including yogurt and fresh milk. Somogyi recommended to the Senate to explore the potential of creating, “a special class of milk under the Canadian Dairy Commission Special Milk Classes Permit Program” to overcome the restrictive regulations within marketing boards. The creation of a new class of milk could assist primary producers in investing in value-adding infrastructure and activities, and diversify their operations beyond just production. Building from Fraser’s remarks on the value consumers place on safe, trusted and sustainable foods, Somogyi outlines his research findings that emphasize the importance of marketing Canada’s food products as high quality and prestigious. Lastly, Valle spoke to the excellence of food product innovation that is coming out of the University of Guelph, particularly from GFIC. Valle emphasizes that to ensure Canada will thrive in high-value markets, this innovation needs to be supported by diversifying and increasing food manufacturing and processing.
Fraser, Somogyi and Valle all emphasized to the Senate that Canada’s agri-food sector has a lot to be proud. Its strengths can continue to be elevated through the support of Canadian agri-food activities, business and growth at all scales and stages. The recommendations offered by University of Guelph agri-food experts and the Senate’s final report and recommendations are valuable resources as we continue on the path to realizing Canada’s potential in advancing its value-added food sector.
Photo by Alexander Maasch on Unsplash