Can Canadian Consumers Learn to Love to Eat Their Meat Again?
While the longevity of any industry group or association is often determined by larger outside economic and regulatory forces impacting the industry they represent, it’s safe to so say that the Canadian Meat Council (CMC) has seen its fair share of both good times and bad during its 100 years of being the leading authoritative voice and advocate of the Canadian read meat industry.
And as everyone out there knows by now, the last couple of years have been regrettably dominated by a whole lot of bad news about COVID-19, global supply chain disruptions, trade conflict and, more recently, savage unjust war in the heart of Europe’s bread-basket with potentially doomsday implications for the global food chain.
With global geopolitical chaos and conflicting economic forecast for growth keeping the Canadian consumers sorely lacking for confidence, it’s reassuring to note that CMC president and chief executive officer Chris White is genuinely a glass half-full kind of guy, often seeing opportunity in times of crisis.
With Canadian consumer now generally less worried about COVID-19 than at any other stage of the last two-and-a-half years, too few of them realize or appreciate the amount of tireless work taking place behind the news headlines to keep the Canadian meat industry going.
“Our essential workforce kept us fed through this pandemic with minimal impacts across grocery store meat counters,” White states.
For their part, “Canadian consumers maintained their confidence in the quality of Canadian meat products,” White adds, “although there was a shift in consumption patterns from restaurant to retail stores and online purchases.”
Behind the scenes, however, “Industry and government collaborated closely with daily calls between CFIA, AAFC, PHAC and CMC to closely track the situation and ensure measures were being applied to protect the industry and maintain production, while ensuring the safety of employees.”
As White says, the close collaboration resulted in several important initiatives:
- Canada Beef/Canada Pork developing tools to provide consumers with access to recipes and information on how to prepare different cuts at home
- CFIA allowed for labeling flexibility, so that the products destined for restaurant use could be sold in retail.
- Canada Beef/Canada Pork presented webinars to international markets on the food safety system in Canada to maintain confidence for consumers abroad in the safety of Canadian meat.
For all that, the industry’s immediate response to COVID-19 may all end up for nought in the long term unless it gets substantial government assistance to address its chronic labor shortage.
With the Canadian meat industry supporting about 288,000 full-time jobs across Canada, according to CMC, the issue is finally getting some long-overdue attention.
“After years of advocating for a solution to our labour workforce issues, CMC worked collaboratively with the government and obtained the Agri-Food Immigration Pilot, giving our TFWP a pathway to permanent residency,” White relates.
“Furthermore, the largest labor-related win was the announcement in March to raise of the temporary foreign cap from 10 to 30 per cent, as most of our members were facing a 20- to 30-percent labor shortage,” says White, also complimenting the recent federal budget for funding several important new initiatives, including:
- $29.3 million over three years to introduce a Trusted Employer Model.
- $48.2 million over three years to implement a new foreign labor program for agriculture processing tailored to the unique needs of employers and workers.
- $64.6 million over three years to increase capacity to process employer applications within established service standards.
As with all federal spending, the quality of return on investment will count for far more than the numbers alone, and something tells us that the promised money will be in good hands with organizations like CMC working to ensure it’s put to good use for the benefit of all Canadians.