Conference Board of Canada unveils Food Strategy at 3rd Canadian Food Summit

by Canadian Shipper

TORONTO, Ont.–The Conference Board of Canada is officially unveiling its Food Strategy today at the 3rd Canadian Food Summit 2014: From Strategy to Action, at the Toronto Convention Centre.

“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). 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. 

Designed to be a comprehensive, action-oriented framework to guide and stimulate change in food and the food system,The Canadian Food Strategy “was developed from a conviction that changing our nation’s food system is both an opportunity and an imperative,” said the Conference Board of Canada. 

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.

 Selectively harmonizing Canadian, US and other international regulatory systems is 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.

Having a broad scope to the strategy is essential as it reflects the widely held view of Canadians that our food system is bigger than the food industries; and it includes multiple economic, social, and environmental dimensions.

“The viability and prosperity of the producers, processors, manufacturers, shippers, traders, distributors, and retailers in Canada’s food system are pivotal to ensuring that an adequate food supply is available to Canadians. This includes the full range of food industry participants: local producers and processors as well as large firms; small operators as well as the biggest multinationals.

The Strategy is a plan for change that focuses on the important things that need improving, where current action is inadequate or incomplete-not an encyclopedia of everything pertaining to food or a detailed blueprint for redesigning all aspects of the food system,” said the report.

There exists a lack of a shared national vision for food that promotes collaboration to achieve widely shared economic, social, and environmental goals. The Canadian Food Strategy is designed to address this.

In Canada, the food sector already contributes more than 8 per cent 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.

Industry Prosperity, one of the major elements identified as a strategic challenge, puts the emphasis on improving the competitiveness and prosperity of Canada’s food industry in order to ensure that it can feed all Canadians, contribute to national economic growth, sustain local specialization, and be more competitive in global markets.

Healthy food is another essential element of the food strategy. As the Canadian population ages, the long-term impact of unhealthy diets is worsening. Canadians suffer from rising rates of chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity, of which dietary patterns are a major contributing cause.

Food Safety failures, though periodic, undermine the trust of Canadians in the food supply, cause economic losses for affected firms, harm Canada’s international brand as a source of safe and healthy food, and reduce our competitiveness in global markets.

“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. 

Canada must also improve the element of food security of its population by meeting their nutritional needs and demonstrate that it can feed its people. 

Environmental Sustainability is also a key element and strategic challenge. Canada’s production of food and export levels need to be increased sustainably, “while minimizing impacts on the environment and improving sector environmental performance compared with other competitor countries.”

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.

A focus on food safety performance as a key element of overall corporate performance, and the benchmarking of safety practices in all parts of the food industry and widely shared best practices are also identified in the report as challenges that should be met. 

Improved harvesting and production methods and supply-chain efficiency could act to minimize waste, and are strongly encouraged as part of the strategy’s goals. 

Implementing the Canadian Food Strategy is voluntary, and some results must come from business or government leaders choosing to take action. Others will be achieved by engaging a “community of common interest” from across the public and private sectors, together with individuals and families, said the Conference Board. 

“In many cases, the best chances for success come from involving many Stakeholders-some taking action on their own, others choosing to act within multi-stakeholder collaborations. In the end, it will be through the efforts and support of a great many Canadians that the most important results are achieved,” the report stated.

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. They have the capacity to make progress, often through the efforts of individual firms or industry subsectors, and sometimes through very broad efforts involving the whole food sector working together,” it said.

Some action strategies will require very large-scale collaboration across the food sector for maximum impact. Universal traceability is a case in point, as are industry standards for limiting advertising to children. In these and other instances featured in the Strategy, broad collective action advances businesses’ common interest while, at the same time, mitigating the risk of investing in action where competitors might take advantage.

The Conference Board will produce an annual report card summarizing the progress made in the previous year, using metrics to establish benchmarks for performance; provide the basis for gauging performance over an extended period; and conduct sector, interprovincial, and international comparisons of performance.

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