Is Canada's food industry making the grade?

Country scores high in food safety and security, but has room to improve when it comes to sustainability

Canada gets an A in food safety, B in food security and healthy foods and diets but punches below its weight in food industry prosperity (B-) and barely receives a passing grade in environmental sustainability (C+), finds a first-of-its-kind report card on the country’s food performance.

Produced by The Conference Board of Canada’s Canadian Food Observatory, it’s the first in a series of annual reports that will track progress in the country’s food sector and identify emerging issues. Next year’s report will compare the performance of each province.

“We decided a report card would be an excellent way to raise awareness of those five areas and also provide a good baseline for how we’re doing now and a baseline for benchmarking progress,” says Michael Bloom, the Board’s vice-president of industry and business strategy.

The report, which stems from the Board’s work to create a Canadian Food Strategy, assesses Canada’s food and beverage sector performance in the five above categories against 16 leading OECD countries. It also measures 43 food performance metrics tied to the five areas of focus.

When it comes to food safety, “we were a little surprised that we were the best,” Bloom says. Still, there is opportunity for improvement around traceability, which is a linchpin of safety, and to improve reporting on chemical risks in food consumption and standards for some ingredients, he says.

In the environmental sustainability category, Canada suffers from high rates of household food waste and food losses before and after purchases. As well, Canada ranks last in rates of greenhouse gas and ammonia emissions. “It reflects a real challenge that we have,” Bloom says.

In terms of healthy foods and diets, Canada’s performance is helped by lower than average intake levels of salt and saturated fats and moderate food literacy levels. However, the prevalence of diabetes, obesity and excess food acquisition weaken Canada’s score in this category. The report also notes 4 million Canadians are affected by food insecurity.

In the industry prosperity category, Canada needs to improve in areas such as food innovation and representation among leading global food companies.

Bloom says over-regulation, fragmented markets and provincial barriers to trade make it riskier to innovate in food. However, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Canada’s recent trade deal with the European Union “will benefit Canada in the long-term,” by helping to boost exports.

The report notes four Canadian-owned food companies - Loblaw, Empire Company, Metro and Overwaitea - are among the top global food retailers, but have almost all their sales in Canada.

Canada gets an embarrassing D in representation among leading global food processing companies, with only Saputo, McCain Foods, Maple Leaf Foods and Agropur Co-operative among the top 100 global food processing companies.

The problem is “we don’t have many large companies globally headquartered here,” Bloom says, noting that by population, Denmark, Netherlands, Switzerland, Ireland, Japan and Austria have higher proportions of global food processing companies.

This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds