The Conference Board of Canada unveiled its Food Strategy at the 3rd Canadian Food Summit 2014: From Strategy to Action, this March.
“From Opportunity to Achievement: Canadian Food Strategy”, was written and researched by Dr. Michael Bloom, Vice-President, Industry and Business Strategy, Conference Board of Canada, with contributions from Michael Grant, Director of Research at the Centre for Food in Canada (CFIC).
The CFIC was launched as a major, multi-year initiative to raise public awareness of the nature and importance of the food sector to Canada’s economy and society; and to create a shared vision for the future of food in Canada, the Conference Board noted.
The Canadian Food Strategy was designed to be a comprehensive, action-oriented framework to guide and stimulate change in food and the food system, and “was developed from a conviction that changing our nation’s food system is both an opportunity and an imperative,” noted the Board.
The report emerged through a process that involved 20 major research studies and wide consultation with experts, stakeholders, and the public.
There are five key elements to the strategy, which include industry prosperity, healthy food, food safety, household food security, and environmental sustainability. These elements make for a strategy that “is more comprehensive than most of the world’s national food strategies, which tend to be more industry focused,” said the Conference Board. The report also sets out eight goals and more than 60 desired outcomes, and provides 110 action strategies that can help to achieve them.
Making the food sector an excellent environmental performer that increases food production sustainably is one of the key goals identified in the report, as is improving exporters’ access to international markets through government-negotiated multilateral and bilateral free trade agreements.
To create a food sector that is innovative, competitive, and growing, the report advocates implementing a universal “one-forward, one-back” food traceability system in Canada, to help firms build their traceability capacity so they can participate. The aim is to promote a more comprehensive food traceability for food supply chains and value chains, and to take advantage of transportation infrastructure improvements to increase the scale of trade, noted the Board, which is advocating selectively harmonizing Canadian, US and other international regulatory systems as a key part of this goal, with North American government standards for imported foods developed jointly with the US and Mexico.
The report also suggests increasing inspections and testing of imported foods and food ingredients prior to import and after arrival, also in partnership with the US, Mexico, and other trading partners.
In Canada, the food sector already contributes more than 8% of Canada’s gross domestic product, and this can become even larger if Canadian producers capture a share of the growing international food market, such as in the dairy sector, where exports could grow dramatically.
“Taken as a whole, Canada’s food sector has the potential to be among the foremost export industries for Canada, since worldwide demand will continue to rise for decades and few other countries have the potential capacity to satisfy the needs of these burgeoning markets. Some of the desired results are achievable in the short term, while others will likely take much longer-but significant progress can be made toward all of them,” said the report.
“Canada should strive to become the top food safety performer in the world, to both safeguard the health of its people and strengthen its competitiveness,” the report said.
Voluntary private national standards, modelled on ISO standards, should be implemented and connected to Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) and other multilateral, international standards and procedures, said the report.
A universal traceability system and nationally standardized traceability are also key goals as they aim to increase accuracy in identifying sources and taking remedial action.
Food and food-related businesses, including producers and farmers, processors and manufacturers, distributors, shippers, retailers, and food services, “can take the lead in accomplishing many of the goals and desired outcomes highlighted in the Strategy”.
Addressing a session on developing a food export and trade action plan to grow the food sector, Bloom said that typical view of government’s role is the ‘macro’ around the trade deals, “but there’s capacity to take it to the micro in terms of identifying the trade opportunities at that level.”
“We know we’ve had issues around bridges between Canada and the US, and a rail system that supports commodities to the scale we want. We need to be more proactive in what’s going on. Our reality is that we’re a trading nation,” he said.
Noting that it’s an issue that hasn’t got an easy answer, Bloom advocated looking at opportunities in the emerging markets.
Based on a recent Conference Board survey of over 600 companies looking at innovation, the companies that exported were found to have done better. The behaviour of the companies was to stay in the markets they were in. They were not very often looking beyond borders, except to the US, Bloom noted.
“We know there is a demand rising in Africa, and there’s more capacity, opportunity to become engaged. India too has demand and an economy but the regulatory burden is high. We have to not only think about firm level supported by government but act on strategies. There’s demand in most countries and as they grow they’re going to need to import more,” he noted.