Que. to refocus its agrifood policy on the food

Quebec’s first draft of a comprehensive public policy on agrifood proposes what the government calls a “major” cultural change by focusing the policy on the food and, by extension, the consumer.

The policy document, called the Green Paper (“livre vert”) for an Agrifood Policy and titled Donner le gout du Quebec (“Giving a taste for Quebec”), was released Tuesday by Agriculture Minister Pierre Corbeil and is expected to go first to the provincial assembly, then to the legislative committee on agriculture, fisheries, energy and natural resources.

The document’s various policy proposals aim to support agrifood in the context of consumer concerns, such as sustainable development, reduced pesticide use and increased awareness of locally-produced foods.

The draft document follows one of the key general recommendations of the controversial 2008 report from the Commission on the future of agriculture and agri-food, which was led by former senior provincial bureaucrat Jean Pronovost and set up by Premier Jean Charest in 2006.

Pronovost’s report had proposed forming new dialogues within the ag sector and “civil society” in general, based on consumers’ emerging demands.

Tuesday’s Green Paper proposes “to focus on the food product, and thus on the consumer, which marks a major change in culture,” the province said in a release Tuesday.

To that end, it proposes policy focused on distinguishing Quebec’s agrifood products, strengthening farms’ “competitive capacity” and developing rural Quebec’s environmental assets.

Corbeil on Tuesday said he would call on all participants in the agrifood sector to take part in development of the province’s agrifood policy and corresponding legislation.

Such legislation, he said, would enshrine the province’s “long-term commitment of (its) government to agrifood” and would also provide the structure needed for “periodic reviews” of Quebec agrifood policy.

“We’re nearly eight million people in Quebec. In a food plan, that represents close to 24 million meals per day,” Corbeil said. The agrifood sector, he said, needs to be well-organized to meet both the demand within the province and to improve Quebec’s position in other markets in Canada and abroad.

Distinguishability

Among the policy proposals to develop a distinct market for Quebec foods are to create an identification system for Quebec’s farmed foods within the province; to position Quebec foods based on their distinct characteristics; and to develop new, value-added and protected brands for the foods themselves.

The policy paper also calls for reinforcement of food safety, security and quality assurance measures; further development of a traceability program for Quebec’s farmed foods and fish; a program to highlight Quebec’s foods in restaurants; further development of short value chains and agrotourism; and to build the Quebec brand for foods marketed outside the province.

Competitiveness

The paper proposes that a competitive agrifood sector in Quebec should have public policy supporting business know-how, including support for development of business plans, financial tools adapted to farms’ economic situations, and support for a food processing sector.

In the broader view, the paper proposes policy measures that support development within given sectors of the agrifood industry, including strengthened supports for research, innovation and market development, as well as for emerging sectors and for local- and regional-level processing.

Environment

The policy paper also proposes measures to foster an atmosphere of sustainable development in keeping with public concern for the environment, such as support for on-farm adaptation of environmental best practices, improved water quality and “intensified efforts” to reduce pesticide use.

As well, the paper proposes to support on-farm development of environmental goods and services, such as protection of biodiversity and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

It also calls for the province to legislate protection for farmland and agricultural activity, and for regional-level adoption of development plans in agricultural areas.

The province’s ubiquitous and influential general farm organization, l’Union des producteurs agricoles (UPA), on Tuesday said it supports the tabling of the Green Paper as a way to launch discussions on future agrifood policy.

The UPA said in a statement that it sees shades of its own vision statements in the Green Paper. However, UPA president Christian Lacasse said, while “placing the food at the heart of the policy goes without saying, what of the producers?”

Quebec’s consumers, he said, don’t want to see ag policy based on an American-style model of industrial agriculture. The Quebec model, he said, is best developed within Quebec, toward a diversified and dynamic ag sector that can best weather any future crises.

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