Conference board unveils national food strategy

Prosperity, food safety and security are priorities | Plan calls for an end to supply management

TORONTO — The Conference Board of Canada’s contribution to national food strategies isn’t the first to be released, but it is likely the most comprehensive.

Neil Currie, who co-chaired the Canadian Federation of Agriculture’s contribution to food sector collaboration in Canada, said the conference board and the CFA began developing their strategies in 2010.

The conference board revealed its plan in Toronto March 18, the culmination of a four-year project that was backed up with 20 earlier reports focusing on specific aspects of the agriculture and food industry.

“It seems we arrived at much the same points,” said Currie, who is now general manager of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture.

“If everyone puts ego aside and gets over pride of authorship, then we can have a single food strategy and move forward.”

Currie said both groups focus on profitably expanding export and domestic opportunities, enhancing standards for food safety and food quality and addressing issues surrounding environmental sustain-ability and food security.

Food Secure Canada has developed another national plan: A People’s Food Policy for Canada. It has similar objectives in a number of areas but, unlike the CFA and conference board efforts, emphasizes local food systems.

The supply management systems that govern dairy, egg and poultry production in the country, is one area in which the CFA and conference board plans differ. The system operates by tightly limiting domestic production while placing high tariffs on imports above prescribed limits.

Currie said the CFA advocates for reform but does not want to abandon the system.

The conference board encourages supply managed industries to focus on expanding domestic and international markets and eventually moving to a liberalized system without quota, import control and price-setting mechanisms.

It proposes a quota buyout, which in the dairy industry would cost taxpayers $3.6 to $4.7 billion.

The conference board suggests paying producers book value for their quota rather than current market value. That would mean compensating farmers for what they paid for their quota at the time it was bought rather than its accumulated value.

The market value of dairy quota was $23 billion as of the end of 2012.

The conference board’s food strategy is ambitious.

Michael Bloom, the conference board’s vice-president for industry and business strategy and author of the report, said it encompasses five elements: industry prosperity, healthy food, food safety, food security and environmental sustainability. As well, there are eight goals, 62 desired outcomes, 110 action strategies and at least 400 specific actions.

“We had lots of dialogue,” he said.

“We had investor groups we met with. We interviewed more than 200 experts and industry leaders.”

He said the strategy embraces liberalized trade, but also recognizes the importance of the domestic market and the demand-driven phenomenon of local food systems.

Other goals focus on innovation, regulatory reform, food safety, the environment, food security in an urban, rural and northern context and the connection between diet and health and disease.

Bloom said government, industry and civil society have a role in meeting these goals.

For example, the strategy’s food security actions would include a pan-Canadian student nutrition program, a pooling of resources among food security organizations, improved food literacy, improved distribution in food deficit areas, community gardens and tax credits and other incentives to industry for food donations.

“We know success in achieving all these goals will rely on a number of groups,” Bloom said.

“We know it needs collaboration. Our commitment is that we’re going to stay the course on this.”

Speakers from Scotland, Ireland, the Netherlands and Australia talked about national food strategy efforts in their countries. The first three jurisdictions have had success in implementing plans, while Australia has yet to put a plan into place.

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