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Another voice in the agri-food choir

Food and beverage companies now have another voice in policy debates

Add one more group to the already-crowded landscape of groups and organizations within the agriculture and food sector.

Food & Beverage Canada (F&BC) has been formed to work with the federal and provincial governments and other industry bodies to advance common priorities for processors and beverage makers.

Rosemary McLellan, an F&BC board member as well as vice-president of strategy and industry affairs with Gay Lea Foods and a former staffer with Dairy Farmers of Canada, said F&BC will collaborate with other food organizations, including agriculture groups.

“It’s not there to replace any other organization,” she said in an interview. “We’re still working on what its role will be. We hope it will break down some of the barriers in the industry.”

F&BC’s creation is long overdue, she said. “There are hundreds of companies in the agri-food supply chain that need a voice.”

F&BC plans to select a CEO and open an Ottawa office in the coming months so it can track the federal government and its various initiatives such as the National Food Strategy, the Healthy Eating Strategy and the growing calls for a program to reduce waste in the agri-food sector, she said. The European and Pacific trade deals are creating export opportunities for the sector as well.

“There are so many issues in the industry,” she said. “We want to establish a relationship with the federal government.”

An F&BC statement said more than 1,500 food and beverage processing businesses across the country are behind the organization’s creation.

The food industry has an unprecedented opportunity, said Daniel Vielfaure, F&BC co-chair and managing director, Bonduelle Americas Long Life, a canned and frozen vegetable processor. “This is Canada’s agri-food century. Canada’s food and beverage manufacturers can play a pivotal role in feeding the world, while growing jobs and economic sustainability for communities in rural and urban Canada.”

Among the priority items for the organization are convincing governments to bring in smart regulations that serve the public interest while maintaining a competitive environment and building a healthier, more sustainable and ethical food system.

It also wants policies to promote innovation in food and beverage manufacturing processes and practices, create global trade opportunities for products, protect and inform consumers while enabling consumer choice and provide skilled jobs and rewarding employment for Canadians.

Food & Beverage Canada is an association of seven regional food and beverage manufacturing associations from coast to coast plus leading industry and stakeholder members. The organization is committed to collaborative relationships and constructive communications with federal and provincial governments.

“There are a lot of important issues on the table right now,” said Michael Burrows, F&BC co-chair and CEO Maple Lodge Farms. “We believe that, working together, we can contribute positively to Canadians’ quality of life and deliver value for our members. We can strengthen the competitiveness and productivity of the businesses we represent while being a key engine to power sustainable growth in Canada’s economy.”

The founding F&BC board includes Burrows, McLellan, Sylvie Cloutier, CEO of the Quebec food processors council, and Rory McAlpine, senior vice-president, government and industry relations at Maple Leaf Foods.

F&BC noted that food and beverage processing industry is the second-largest manufacturing industry in Canada and shipped $112.4 billion worth of product in 2016 accounting for 18 per cent of total manufacturing shipments and two per cent of the national GDP. The food and beverage manufacturing industry invests about $2 billion annually in capital expenditures, about 80 per cent of which is in machinery and equipment.

The industry’s 6,900 businesses are the largest manufacturing employer providing direct jobs for over 257,000 Canadians, employing more Canadians than the auto and aerospace industries combined. The industry supplies approximately 70 per cent of all processed food and beverage products in Canada and is the largest buyer of the food Canadian farmers grow.

Exports of processed food and beverage products to 192 countries continue to increase and stood at $33.5 billion in 2016, an increase of seven per cent over 2015, accounting for 29.8 per cent of production value. The three major markets for these products in 2016 were the United States 74 per cent, China seven per cent and Japan six per cent.

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