by SUSAN MANN
An organization representing Ontario’s food and beverage manufacturers supports the Ontario Farm Products Marketing Commission’s efforts to change the province’s processing vegetable regulations.
Food and Beverage Ontario says in a July 18 letter to commission chair Geri Kamenz the proposal “will result in an improved environment that will allow Ontario’s processing vegetable sector many new opportunities to grow, attract new investment, and create jobs.”
On June 28, the commission posted a proposal on the Ontario Regulatory Registry to remove the negotiating authority of the Ontario Processing Vegetable Growers marketing board and add provisions to turn the board into an industry advisory committee. Comments are due Aug. 12.
Food and Beverage Ontario says the commission’s proposal supports the industry in addressing key elements raised by the Agri-Food Growth Steering Committee, which delivered advice in October 2015 to Ontario Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Minister Jeff Leal on how the agricultural industry can meet Premier Kathleen Wynne’s challenge. In 2013, she encouraged the industry to create 120,000 new jobs and double its annual growth rate by 2020.
According to the agriculture ministry website, during the past decade, Ontario’s agri-food sector had an annual growth rate of about one per cent a year.
The Food and Beverage Ontario letter signed by its board chair, Michael Burrows, says among the key steering committee recommendations the commission’s processing vegetable proposal supports are:
- Increasing agri-food businesses competitiveness.
- Enhancing activities to attract and retain agri-food investments, grow Ontario’s market share and encourage more exports.
- Reducing regulatory burdens.
- Identifying new opportunities for growth along the entire agri-food value chain.
- Addressing growth barriers that hamper retaining and attracting new agri-food investments to Ontario.
The organization also supports the commission’s “proposal to allow for the establishment of an industry advisory committee, and to make additional amendments to the (processing vegetable) board’s powers,” Burrows says in the letter.
Several members of Food and Beverage Ontario are vegetable processors, however chief executive officer Norm Beal says he didn’t have the exact number.
Beal says the food and beverage organization didn’t have prior knowledge the commission was proposing to change the processing vegetable marketing structure.
“We found out about it pretty much as everybody else did,” he says, noting one of their board members, who is a vegetable processor, mentioned the proposal at a board meeting about three or four weeks ago.
The organization has not made a previous presentation to the commission on the need for changes to the processing vegetable marketing structure, Beal says. He didn’t know if any of the organization’s members talked to the commission about the proposal.
The position of the processors’ organization is at odds with many growers and others who say removing the ability of the processing vegetable board to bargain collectively on behalf of its growers will lead to the industry’s demise.
Growers and others also take exception to the commission’s process for making changes, with some saying a longer consultation period is needed along with consultations that don’t occur in farmers’ busiest season of growing their crops. Some people are also calling for a producer vote on the proposal and public hearings.
Beal says Food and Beverage Ontario strongly supports “the producers in Ontario in all commodities. We know that we cannot be successful as processors in the province without strong, healthy and profitable farmers.”
As for regulated marketing, Beal says the processing vegetable regulations are useful and “were put in place 60 to 70 years ago for probably very valid reasons. But what we get concerned about is the fact that they haven’t been modernized in 40 or 50 years. The way that we regulate these commodities today doesn’t work in a modern world and modern market economy. It’s time to have a look and see if we can do it better.”
About farmer opposition to the proposal, Beal says “there’s always opposition to change even if it’s for the good. Probably not every farmer out there agrees that making changes is a bad thing. I think some farmers would be in favour of modernizing the regulations.”
Beal says Food and Beverage Ontario has not met directly with farmer associations about the proposal.
By supporting the commission’s proposal, Beal says the food and beverage organization isn’t trying to undermine producers. “We’re supportive of farmers and we’ll continue to be supportive of farmers. But we do believe that at some point in time we need to look at modernizing regulations.” BF