A federal committee continues to explore ways of increasing Canada’s food processing sector.
During a Nov. 24 meeting, Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan president Todd Lewis said the processing sector will need to grow to meet ambitious export targets put in place by federal and provincial governments.
“If we are to build for the ambitious production and export growth targets, Canada is going to have to focus on the sectors and regions that currently export unprocessed products and overcome some of those hurdles,” he said before listing a number of ways to help increase processing capacity.
Trade access, reduced regulatory burden and transportation improvements were included on that list.
Canada’s food processing sector was brought into focus when facilities were forced to close due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but for years there have been calls for more investment in the area.
In recent weeks, the standing committee on agriculture has been studying the issue.
Lewis noted meat processors “still don’t have a standardization between provincial and federal regulations,” which creates unnecessary red tape for the industry. Put simply, Lewis believes that if meat processed in Alberta is good enough for Albertans, it should be good enough for everyone else.
“These kinds of barriers have been long standing,” he said, noting those barriers have hampered the establishment of new processing plants. “Part of it is almost protectionism between provinces, people have their own markets and they want to continue to see their local producers, local food is very important.”
“We’ve been talking about this for decades and we really haven’t made much progress at the end of the day.”
Later he told the committee a lack of standardization of regulations “has been a detriment to establishing new processing facilities.”
Lewis also called for “a different transportation system” to accommodate increased processing because, in part, the containers used for raw materials differ from those used for processed goods. Beyond that, he said it’s important to ensure rail lines and ports can sustain the traffic increase brought on by more processed goods.
“We need increased rail capacity, it’s ongoing as we have higher and higher production models and opportunities,” he said. “Port capacity is another issue.”
Because some new processing plants will likely be set up in remote parts of the country, Lewis said it will be detrimental to them if their products are unable to travel to market.
Food Processors of Canada president Denise Allen said the allowance of over consolidation in the retail system has concentrated 80 percent of supply of food Canadians are able to purchase to five retailers.
She told MPs this puts Canada’s food system and supply at risk because it allows retailers to impose “increasing and unrealistic financial pressure on food producers and processors.”
Allen called the fees and fines “predatory” and said without a Grocery Code of Conduct to prevent them, Canada will struggle to attract investment for new processing facilities.
“We are respectfully calling on government to intervene,” she said.