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Nadia Theodore Addresses the House of Commons Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food

Good afternoon,

My name is Nadia Theodore and I am the Senior Vice President, Global Government and Industry Relations at Maple Leaf Foods. I am here representing the largest food processing company in Canada, with operations across Manitoba, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Quebec and Ontario and an exporting footprint that includes Asia, the United States and Europe. We are Canadian born and globally grown. We are committed and invested to the success and sustained growth of the Canadian agri-food sector and to the processing sector in particular, which will be key to Canada’s post COVID-19 economic recovery

But how do we make this happen? What will it take to make it happen? I would like to highlight three areas that Maple Leaf Foods believes will be critical to success. 

First, Regulatory Agility

We know that if done correctly, regulation can have a positive impact on growth and foster a thriving, competitive market that supports innovation and technological progress.

However, if executed poorly, regulation stifles productivity, results in unnecessary costs for all businesses, but in particular for small and medium sized firms, and effectively reverses competitiveness gains.

The good news is that Canada’s rigorous regulatory system gives Canadians and our country’s trading partners confidence that products made in Canada meet the highest health, safety, environmental and quality requirements.

The bad news: Our regulatory system is also complex, with a multi-layered jurisdictional structure with no clear authority. Perhaps more troubling, is that many regulations are either outdated or focused too heavily on prescribing a process than ensuring an outcome.

This deters innovation in solutions that would improve health, safety and environmental outcomes and stymies much needed investment to our country. The ultimate result is: added costs, distrust between industry and regulators and an overall less than efficient system that prevents us from living up to our true potential on both health and safety and global competitiveness.

With the emergence of COVID-19, the Canadian government has shown agility in regulatory processes within the agri-food sector.

We sincerely hope that the Government continues to prioritize regulatory flexibility over the long term.

The recommendation out of the 2018 Agri-food Economic Strategy Table for a charter on regulatory agility, with an approach that is focused on predictability, efficiency + effectiveness, and equally importantly – considers the cumulative impact of regulation on competitiveness and net economic benefit to Canada, should be further explored.

The second area that I would like to highlight is Talent. Like any industry, ours requires an adequate workforce to keep operations going. The sector continues to identify chronic and critical labour shortages as one of the most pressing risks and a major constraint on both agricultural growth and global competitiveness. Right now, the sector is in need of 30,000 workers – ten percent of our workforce. By 2025 we expect that number to more than double

It is not a new challenge and the industry has been sounding the alarm bells for several years – luckily, coupled with concrete solutions that we are eager to work with all government partners on. Changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and to immigration programming are needed to support immediate labour shortages, so high-growth sectors can access global labour forces across all skill levels.

But even more immediate a need is to help address the significant labour challenges that the sector is experiencing due to COVID-19. Even during a pandemic, Canadians need to eat. It is because of our front-line workers that Canada’s food plants continued to operate throughout the pandemic to provide us with food on our tables. Maple Leaf Foods has invested over 50 million dollars to keep our workers safe to allow them to do so.

It is critical that governments also reinforce for our front-line food workers the critical nature of their work and the importance of their contributions. We sincerely hope that the federal government will work with provinces to ensure that food processing plant workers are prioritized for COVID-19 vaccines immediately after critical health care workers. This is in line with the direction provided by the National Advisory Committee on Immunization and with what other countries around the globe, including our competitors, are doing.

As we have seen recently, there is also a serious animal care consideration to sustained labour shortages or shut down of plants due to COVID-19. In particular in the pork industry, the supply chain is very tightly calibrated. If there is a break in the hog supply chain, it certainly doesn’t take long for things to get very serious on the farms. We have seen this just this week in Alberta.

To solve for longer term, the recommendations of the Agri-Food Economic Strategy provide a good roadmap:

  • Assess future needs for all skill levels;
  • Develop a sector-specific strategy for skills development that includes a focus on apprenticeship and skilled trades needs; and
  • Promote the sector as a good career choice.

This last recommendation, I feel is particularly important. We must, as government and industry, collaborate to position food production and processing as a forward-looking and cutting-edge sector and one that is critical to maintaining the health, safety, security, and economic well-being of the country. This means reaching not only the next generation of future workers, but also their parents and grandparents, to ensure that they are aware and convinced of the opportunities that exist within the sector for good paying, long-term employment.

Before I close, I would like to touch on the topic of innovation. The global agri-food market in 2025 will be highly competitive and filled with new challenges – a growing population, climate change and rapid advances in technology – to name a few. Maple Leaf Foods strives for continuous evolution of our products and business strategies to meet these challenges head on. In 2019 we became the first major food company in the world to be carbon neutral and the only food company in Canada to set Science Based emissions reduction targets. Existing federal innovation programs are not well suited for food manufacturing. Often, they are premised on job creation or on the development of disruptive technologies. In a small market like Canada, it is unrealistic to think that all or even most innovation will be disruptive. Our industry however, will benefit from adopting technologies that already exist in other countries or industries and in so doing, introduce and customize innovative products and processes within the sector. Innovation will be critical to ensure the stability and growth of the sector and more can be done to tailor programs.

I would like to thank you again for having me and look forward to your questions.