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Canada needs to move on food traceability


April 11, 2011
By OnTrace

Topics

April 11, 2011, Guelph,
Ont – The main event at the recent OnTraceability 2011 conference held in
Cambridge, Ont., was a vigorous, interactive discussion about food
traceability, between a panel of North America's top agriculture and food
traceability experts and a full house reflecting all sectors of the food chain
– farmers through to consumers.

April 11, 2011, Guelph,
Ont – The main event at the recent OnTraceability 2011 conference held in
Cambridge, Ont., was a vigorous, interactive discussion about food
traceability, between a panel of North America's top agriculture and food
traceability experts and a full house reflecting all sectors of the food chain
– farmers through to consumers.

Both the panel and
audience agreed that time’s running out for Canada to create a national food
traceability system. Other countries are well ahead of Canada was the general
observation. The interactive forum portion of the conference produced a few
surprises, including an observation that lack of government funding is not a
current restraining force to implementing traceability – some initial public
sector investment is needed to get things started; but it is the proven
benefits that will cause businesses to invest.

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“We intentionally set up
this conference to engage as diverse an audience as possible and provide a
forum for a much needed dialogue about traceability in Ontario and Canada,”
said Brian Sterling, CEO of OnTrace. “The level of participation and the
quality of ideas and opinions that were expressed, confirmed our instinct that
food traceability is an issue that will galvanize the entire food system.
Ultimately traceability offers a tremendous opportunity for Canada to
significantly raise its level of innovation and competitiveness in agriculture
and food.”

Speaker highlights
included Dr. David Acheson, the managing director of food safety at Leavitt
Partners
and the former associate commissioner for food at the FDA, speaking
about the new U.S. Food Safety Modernization Act (2011) and how it will change
the landscape for agriculture and food in a way that has not been seen since
1938, when the FDA was formed by an Act of Congress. Dr. Acheson told the
audience that producers and processors in the U.S. and Canada will all be
impacted by the new law and to get ready. His advice was, “you can get in front
of regulations by using traceability to show you have done everything you can
in the event of a recall. Do what you can, that’s what's important,” adding
that he viewed traceability, “as an opportunity to clear brands instead of
implicating them.”

Jamie Kennedy, Canadian
chef, food activist and a Member of the Order of Canada, told the audience
“traceability is a value-add in the culinary sector and that consumer interest
in the source of their food is off the charts.” Chef Kennedy commented that
stories about where the food comes from resonates deeply with consumers who
want to connect with food. Kennedy said he believes traceability helps the
consumer to connect back to the food they eat and that the idea of traceability
and knowing your foods origin is not a trend but a fundamental shift in
mindset. This was an idea that was echoed by other speakers.

Other forum highlights
included an afternoon forum, moderated by CTV news journalist David Imrie, that
used an interactive format to engage both panelists and the audience.

The expert panel
included: Dr. David Sparling, chair of Agri-Food and Innovation and Regulation at the Richard Ivey School of Business; Bruce Saunders, a dairy farmer and vice
chair of OnTrace; Eric Biddiscombe, senior director of planning in the produce
business unit for Loblaw Companies Limited; Richard Halenda, owner of Halenda's
Meats
, as well as Jamie Kennedy and Dr. Acheson.

The audience and the
panel were in agreement on numerous points:

  • Emergency Management is
    still the current main motivator for food traceability but the value to
    business is what will eventually drive it.
  • Collaboration between
    industry and government in Canada has been largely lip service and to succeed
    we must now adopt a roll up the sleeves approach to get things done.
  • Businesses in Canada are
    cautious and waiting to see the case for traceability. This, despite strong
    testimony from businesses leaders on the panel that managing their businesses
    with traceability in mind produces excellent return on investment.
  • There was a real
    disconnect between what audience members said as consumers and what they said
    as business people. For example, when asked as consumers, nearly 80 per cent of
    the audience said that traceability was important for all or most products that
    they eat. Yet they did not reflect this in their opinion numbers when polled as
    business people.

David McInnes the
president and CEO of the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute closed the
conference by putting traceability into a strategic perspective. McInnes
described traceability as a pan food system management tool. He commented that
a food strategy is needed in Canada; one that encompasses more than just
production and distribution, but also reaches into public health and
sustainability. McInnes commented that traceability is one factor in a
successful Canada food strategy.

OnTraceability is an
annual international conference hosted by OnTrace Agri-food Traceability.