The ultimate consumers’ choice award

Significant change is needed throughout the sector to secure Canada’s future global competitiveness

If farmers and food manufacturers want to be ranked world leaders, then they have to prove to Canadian consumers they deserve that status, says the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute.

In the final report out of a process charting the industry’s future growth that began last fall, CAPI said the sector should consider setting a goal of becoming rated as the most trusted food system on the planet.

David McInnes, CAPI president and CEO, says it comes down to consumers trusting Canadian-produced food is as safe as can be. “Trust touches everyone and everything in the food system.”

That trust “must be conferred on us by our consumers based on the actions we collectively take — and not simply declared to be so by stakeholders,” he notes.

The challenge “will be gaining the trust of consumers who rarely have any real knowledge about modern agriculture. Reaching out to them will take a concerted co-operative effort by the entire sector.”

There will always be food safety incidents, he adds. “The test will be how we handle a crisis. That’s when our transparency and governance will matter.”

The report urges a coalition of the willing take up the challenge of positioning the sector “for a changing food world and to help fulfil its potential as a priority economic sector for Canada.”

Agriculture Canada says the sector ranging from the farm through the processer to the retailer generates almost seven per cent of the gross domestic product. It provides one in eight jobs in Canada, employing over 2.2 million people. With the global population expected to reach 9.5 billion in 2050 compared to just over seven billion currently, the agri-food sector should have a growing demand for its products. It’s already the fifth-largest food exporter.

The national food policy called for in Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay’s mandate letter “talks about trust and transparency,” McInnes says. CAPI’s report tries to make the connections needed within the agri-food sector to make a new policy possible.

“We need to credibly demonstrate the care being taken to enhance food safety, improve food nutrition, address animal care, contribute to the planet’s health and satisfy other expectations,” the report continues. “It is in Canada’s best interest — both economically and for the sake of the well-being of its citizens — that we ensure our agri-food system delivers a strategy that enhances and retains trust.”

The report also notes that “many countries are trying to sort out how to ensure the future economic growth of their food systems while addressing climate change and responding to a litany of evolving consumer concerns.

Such consumer issues include health, nutrition, food safety, sustainability, ethics, food security and reliability of supply. As well, one of the biggest global issues will be how to produce more without depleting natural capital.”

Every ingredient needed for gaining consumer support “relates to matters of trust. Trust is now the defining issue facing nearly everyone involved in food production and supply, both in Canada and among competitors.

“How we cultivate trust may very well be the key to future competitiveness. Securing trust requires greater transparency about food practices and their impacts, as well as credible national metrics that measure and demonstrate performance.”

The report calls for a new spirit of collaboration “one that includes a dramatic change in how scientists, policy-makers and industry collaborate and tackle innovation priorities,” the report said.

“It is in Canada’s best interest — both economically and for the well-being of its citizens — to see that the country’s agri-food system delivers a strategy to enhance and retain trust. To be forward thinking, we must produce safe food that enhances ecosystems and improves nutritional quality. This is the basis to reposition one of Canada’s priority sectors.”

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