Food strategy missing from ag committee report

The Commons agriculture committee is backing calls for a national food strategy, but says there’s not time to develop one before the launch of the Growing Forward Two program next April.

“It’s really a different issue from Growing Forward, which is a slate of programs to help farmers,” said Tory MP Larry Miller, the committee’s chair. “The food strategy is a topic for another day.”

A national food strategy is currently being worked on by the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute, the Conference Board of Canada, and Food Secure Canada. New Democrat and Liberal members of the ag committee also back such work, saying it would not only help put farmers, processors, retailers and consumers on the same page but help in other areas, such as promoting local food and making it easier for new entrants to get started in farming.

“Establishing a food strategy would spark a broader discussion with the public of the role agriculture plays in the Canadian economy and Canadian society, and would facilitate the development of public policy,” the committee’s report stated.

The participation of so many groups in the effort should be seen as an early success, said CFA president Ron Bonnett, adding he has spoken to Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz about getting “common objectives and principles on paper.”

“Fully developing the strategy will be a long-term process and we wonder what funding will be available for the work,” said Bonnett.

The committee also called on the federal government to maintain an active role in funding long-term basic research projects “because neither the private sector nor universities can do the job as effectively,” the report stated. It cited the example of forage crops, saying the volume of forage seed sold each year in Canada isn’t high enough to justify private-sector plant-breeding programs.

The committee also backed the Canadian Agri-Science Clusters Initiative, which allocates funding to 10 science clusters organized along commodity lines (beef cattle, dairy, swine/pork, poultry, canola/flax, pulse, wheat, edible horticulture, ornamental horticulture and organic agriculture).

And the MPs pledged their support for supply management in trade negotiations. It noted supporting dairy and poultry farmers costs Washington $5 billion a year.

“The supply management system costs the public virtually nothing, and Canadian consumers pay only once for the true value of their products,” the report stated.

However, there is a need to find “quota formulas that would make it possible to respond more easily to user demand and accommodate areas in which the population is growing at a faster rate,” the report said.

The NDP called for “transparent and timely performance management” reviews of Agriculture Canada’s business risk management programs, while Liberals want more support to help value-added farm products be commercialized.

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