Canadian Meat Council
Any major industry needs the strength of a unified voice to represent their members’ interests. The Canadian Meat Council (CMC) has been doing just this since 1919, and is a national trade association for the federally inspected meat industry. The current membership includes 43 firms operating 133 plants.
As a crucial component of Canada’s agriculture sector, the meat industry is the largest sector of Canada’s food processing industry, representing 10 per cent of the country’s agri-food exports. It is also one of Canada’s leading manufacturing sectors with annual sales exceeding $21.4 billion. The CMC is a proactive forum where members can discuss and consider matters of mutual interest relating to government activities that can affect the industry overall, including domestic and international competitiveness, food safety or animal welfare, rather than competitive issues such as price points or new products on the market. The unassuming office, employing only five people, is the voice for an industry that employs over 67,000 people.
Focus on food safety
One important focus of the CMC is food safety. This involves meat inspection guidelines, product labelling legislation, meat hygiene, veterinary rules and guidelines, amongst many other initiatives. The primary concern of every involved party is, of course, the continually improving high safety standards for meat products. Executive Director of the CMC Jim Laws acknowledges the challenges that have been faced in the last few years, such as the listeria crisis of 2008, when several major meat processing plants had major problems with the bacteria and subsequently recalled masses of product.
“There has been a lot of improvements over the years at facilities across Canada and the meat processing industry is working hard to put in new equipment and new processes,” he says. Naturally, Laws is an advocate of a diet rich in meat and its importance to a balanced, nutritious meal—and is quick to point out that Canada’s Food Guide still recommends one to three servings of meat per day. “Over 100 million meals are eaten every day in Canada, so by and large Canada’s food supply is very safe compared to other parts of the world. We really are very fortunate.”
Issues of interest
The CMC meets with senior members of parliament and government officials to try to change regulations which affect the meat industry, for instance, advocating for the revocation of inspection fees paid by the meat industry. Laws speaks emphatically on the subject, “We pay more than $20 million per year in inspection fees and we don’t think we should be paying inspection fees. It’s a highly regulated industry. We don’t have any choice. For the government to then charge us for something that is required, we don’t believe that is correct.” Meat inspection regulations are very lengthy and the CMC holds the stance that the regulations the industry works under are the most onerous of any of the food sectors.
Another issue the CMC takes a passionate stance on is Canada’s legislation regarding certain kinds of meat packaging. Approval for regulation changes, such as the use of a new type of packaging, needs to be handled in a timelier fashion, the council insists. Getting a new type of meat packaging can take upward of two years in Canada. Says Laws, “We’ve seen a certain type of packaging that our members wanted to use and couldn’t—and here it is on the shelves in Canada in which U.S. meats are sold. That we’re not allowed to use that packaging makes absolutely no sense to us.” Arguably, the paradox is evident. It’s issues like this which exemplify the importance of an association who can voice industry-wide concerns. Some concerns, like this one, cannot be resolved by an individual member on their own. To be fair, Laws comments, “Health Canada has wanted to modernize its regulations, but in a minority government that’s a difficult thing to do, to pass major regulatory changes.”
The export market: a key strategy
The export market is a crucial part of the meat industry in Canada as we have the resources to produce far more than 33 million citizens can consume. International trade is extremely important and the export market is thriving. Last year alone, about $2.4 billion worth of pork and $1.3 billion worth of beef were exported to over 150 countries around the world. The value of the Canadian dollar has helped over the last few years, but the CMC still has issues it feels are of concern to the export market. For instance, the CMC would like to see food safety interventions and new technologies that Americans can use accepted in Canada, which they often are not. Says Laws, “We don’t think all these things need to be reviewed in Canada and there should be a way to accept these things internationally.”
One of the CMC’s successful initiatives regards the nutritional labelling of meat products. The idea being that labels should be clear, consistent, and easy for the consumer to decipher. The CMC was part of Health Canada’s release of the Sodium Reduction Strategy for Canada and completely support the recommendations in the report. There are several regulatory amendment changes, including standardizing the serving size. “We all agreed on targets for various types of meat,” says Laws. “I was shocked the serving size wasn’t consistent. If you are a consumer and read the label to see the sodium level, but when you compare that to another product, but the serving size is not the same so you are not comparing the same thing, so that’s pretty critical.”
Another achievement occurred a couple of years ago when there was an employment shortage in the industry. It was very difficult to get enough people to work in the factories across Canada, especially when oil prices were quite high. The CMC teamed up with Human Resources Canada to create something called the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, which allows people to come to Canada on a temporary work visa. Says Laws, “We were pleased when the government extended that. They used to bring people over on a one-year work permit. Now it’s two years, so that works really well.”
The Canadian Meat Council is an important industry influence in a major sector of the Canadian food industry. Together, as an association, it strives to bring light to important issues in the industry and to promote positive change. A cohesive voice of many, the council provides a connection to the individual members of the industry. Notes Laws, “We try to give the government a message that is simple to understand.”