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New Quebec Policy Emphasizes Food Over Farming

Quebec’s recently released draft for a new agri-food policy, “Giving a Taste of Quebec,” doesn’t include all the ingredients that many in the sector had expected.

Pierre Corbeil, the Quebec minister of agriculture, fisheries and food, unveiled the long awaited parliamentary “green paper” (draft policy) on June 7, 2011. The document featured three principal components with the consumer being the main focus of the policy, not agricultural producers. Secondly, a parliamentary commission will be convened to consult and formulate the details of the new policy which will then be enacted into law.

The head of the official representatives of Quebec farmers, the Union des Producteurs Agricoles (UPA), Christian Lacasse, took issue with many key aspects contained in the green paper.

“We expected more substance three years after the Commission on the Future of Agriculture and Agri-Food in Quebec’s report,” Lacasse said in an email interview. His reference is to the Pronovost report, released in 2008, which carried out a comprehensive review of Quebec’s exisiting agri-food policies and programs. The Pronovost report underlined the need for a new agri-food policy in Quebec.

Lacasse also had something to say about the policy’s focus on the consumer. “We must keep in mind that there can be no food without agriculture, or without farmers.” He added that “Farmers… do not want a U.S.- inspired industrial model for agriculture.”

The UPA represents 43,000 farmers in Quebec. It advocates for more support for small family farms, which is in contrast with the green paper’s consumer-based focus.

Corbeil countered that “The green paper was made after reflection and collaboration with our partners in the agri-food sector,” adding that “The vision is clear.”

He noted that the green paper could also be periodically revised to reflect future changes in the sector. “We take note of the interdependence and the interconnectivity of all the agri-food sectors,” Corbeil said. “We want to adjust the industry so that the available products respond to the needs of the consumer.”

Another focus of the draft policy is to better distinguish Quebec food products from those coming from elsewhere, and to strengthen the competitive capabilities of the sector. Lacasse believes that this doesn’t go far enough and a greater focus on buying local is needed.

“We can clearly do better by adopting, for example, a specific policy that values Quebec food and which would include a minimum percentage of Quebec products in our supermarkets.” Currently, according to the green paper, 45 per cent of Quebecmade food products are sold within the province.

The role of the UPA as the sole official representative organization for farmers had been put into question during the parliamentary commission that led to the green paper. Although there was no specific recommendation for action in this regard, the issue is still alive.

“It is a question posed in the green paper. We will have a parliamentary consultation and then see how that turns out,” Corbeil said.

Lacasse did not seem threatened. “We already know Quebec farmers want to maintain a single organization to represent them and negotiate on their behalf, as demonstrated by our 95 per cent rate of voluntary membership.”

Despite the reaction of the UPA, Corbeil stands behind the green paper. “Generally, it has been well received,” he said. “It creates the foundation for the first-ever agri-food policy in Quebec.”

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