New food policy centre aims to inform

Barb Glen reports from the farm & food care conference in Ottawa about public opinion and agricultural policy

OTTAWA — Half of Canadians surveyed in a recent poll are unsure that agriculture is headed in the right direction.

Some 93 percent say they know little or nothing about farming, and 60 percent would like to know more about farming practices.

Farm and Food Care Canada, a non-profit group that seeks to earn public trust in food and farming, looked at those statistics and concluded further action was needed.

On May 31, it launched the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity, which is affiliated with the U.S. Center for Food Integrity that has been operating since 2007.

Its stated goal is to work with members and the food industry at large “sharing information that demonstrates our values regarding outstanding animal care and environmental stewardship for the producers of safe, affordable food.”

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Results of a survey of 2,510 Canadians, done in February and March, accompanied the launch, and an annual survey is planned now that the CCFI has been established.

“It’s day one of a 25-year game plan,” said Farm and Food Care chief executive officer Crystal Mackay.

“This first year was really important to capture some benchmark data and make sure the public trust model was right for Canada.”

Earning public trust is the thrust of the initiative, and while survey data showed that farmers top the list in terms of favourable impression, it also showed concern about farm practices, food costs and nutrition.

“This journey is about social licence, engagement, earning public trust. It is about the entire Canadian food system,” said Kim McConnell, Adfarm founder and adviser to Farm and Food Care Canada.

CCFI has 18 founding members, including restaurant chains, egg, poultry, beef and pork groups and food, feed and seed companies.

The annual membership fee structure ranges from $25,000 for corporations to $10,000 for provincial non-profit associations and government agencies.

Membership grants access to annual survey data, networking and opportunities for collaboration on shared goals.

McConnell said the plan is to get more individuals and food and agriculture industries involved, all with the aim of establishing consumer trust in the food and farming sector.

“This is the first topic I’ve ever seen in my career, the first one, where the entire food industry says this is what we need,” he said in an interview.

During a presentation at the Public Trust Summit May 31, McConnell encouraged the 200 people who gathered for the event to align themselves with that goal.

As a strategic adviser to Farm and Food Canada, he said some things have become obvious.

“We learned the importance of having the full value chain participation. We learned that production agriculture and processing probably needs to think a little stronger about and give higher appreciation to what consumers are expecting.

“We also learned that the food sector probably needs to at times have greater appreciation for science based and supported production practices.”

He also said government must stand up for regulatory systems and help build consumers’ confidence in the farm and food sector.

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