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Produce sector needs help with CFIA changes

Low margins in the industry leave little capacity to cover rising research costs if an existing formula is scrapped

Canadian vegetable growers say they need to meet changing demand for new crops such as sweet potato and bok choy.
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Sweeping regulatory changes at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and limited funds for research are among the challenges facing fruit and vegetable growers, says Ron Lemaire, president of the Canadian Produce Marketing Association.

“The foundation for Canada’s fresh produce supply chain is made up of approximately 25,000 small-, medium- and large-size farms that produce vegetables, fruits and potatoes,” he told the Commons agriculture committee. “The produce industry is one of narrow margins with little bandwidth to absorb rising costs.

“It’s critical to the sustainability of the industry that research and innovation enable the industry to increase its productivity and reduce costs.”

There are fears within the industry that the research funding model of 75 per cent government and 25 per cent industry funding could be terminated by the federal and provincial governments.

“There is little ability in our industry to increase the dollars devoted to these research projects at this time,” said Lemaire. “A decrease in the ratio of the government contribution for research projects will only have an effect of decreasing the number of projects overall.”

With the introduction of regulations to implement the Safe Food for Canadian Act imminent, the agri-food industry is looking for support “to meet the new requirements being delivered in the coming years,” Lemaire said.

“Given the substantial investment that our federal and provincial governments will be making under this framework, it is important to ensure that the regulatory burdens are not counterproductive to our efforts. A responsive, science-based regulatory framework that allows for the timely approval of new ingredients, product and processes, is essential.”

The industry also has international market access concerns for fresh produce because of the non-tariff barriers related to food safety or plant health it faces. “Industry alone cannot meet the requirements of foreign governments in these areas.”

As well, pest-management products being used in other countries are being deregistered here and without new plant-protection tools, it’ll be “hard for our growers to be competitive,” he said.

He said that in 2013, the fresh fruit and vegetable sector supported over 147,000 jobs, created $11.4 billion in real GDP and contributed $1.3 billion in personal income tax and $840 million in corporate taxes.

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