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Industry NewsCanada's produce industry urges government to rethink proposed plastic packaging ban

Canada’s produce industry urges government to rethink proposed plastic packaging ban

The Canadian Produce Marketing Association (CPMA) has raised concerns about the federal government’s proposed regulatory and policy actions targeting primary packaging for fresh produce.

The proposed measures, effectively a “plastics ban” for the sector, the CPMA says, include plans to eliminate non-compostable plastic PLU stickers and require that 95 per cent of fresh produce be sold in bulk or plastic-free packaging. The CPMA argues that these actions could have adverse, significant, and potentially irreversible impacts on Canadians.

“The policy development is poorly thought out and the minister is operating on a 2015 mandate that has changed. Consumers do not support the government in the same way as when they were originally elected. And consumer polling shows that 73 per cent of Canadians rank the cost of living as one of the top three concerns with only 26 per cent, prioritizing climate change and environmental issues. And that is been confirmed in 2019. And it’s really been confirmed in 2023. The fact that the minister of environment is focused on the 2015 mandate and consumer opinion that is totally toxic or shifted is very concerning relative to the fact that the current minister does not have a feel for the true pain Canadians are feeling in Canada,” Ron Lemaire, president of the CPMA, told Grocery Business.

He added the government consulted with industry stakeholders over a 30-day period in August, which Lemaire said was difficult to effectively provide input in that timeframe.

“We were aware the government was looking at some type of policy model in spring and were able to see it at the beginning of summer. And then a consultative process of 30 days in August did not provide industry, nor is it enough time for the government to truly understand what the policy framework impact will have on Canadians,” Lemaire said.

The CPMA says primary packaging plays a crucial role in sustaining the global produce supply chain, ensuring the availability of affordable, high-quality, and safe fresh produce year-round. The organization believes the proposed regulations need to consider the complexities of the global fresh produce supply chain and overlook the industry’s efforts toward developing a sustainable packaging portfolio.

To bolster its case, the CPMA, in collaboration with its members and partner associations, conducted a series of studies to analyze the potential impacts of the proposed regulatory and policy actions.

In the analysis, the CPMA suggests regulatory and policy initiatives regarding fresh produce in Canada may have substantial effects. The analysis also shows that Canadians might see a 34 per cent increase in the cost of fresh produce, with a drop of over 50 per cent in its availability. According to the report, this could result in an estimated market value decline of $5.6 billion.

“The domestic market will be at a competitive disadvantage. With higher costs of production, the import market will stop shipping. The issue is that many products will be able to ship without landing with high waste, and then penalties will be imposed because the product shipped is not requested. And because of that, many have already identified, especially in the United States, that they will stop shipping to Canada,” Lemaire told Grocery Business. “This is significant because the Canadian production base does not satisfy all of the diversity and product needs of Canadians demand. So we will be left with root crops, we’ll be left with strawberries and season, and within a very small geographic geography from where their produce, Northern and remote communities will see an even greater impact.”

Furthermore, the analysis also points out an increase of more than 50 per cent in fresh produce food waste across various categories and a 50 per cent uptick in greenhouse gas emissions throughout the supply chain. As a result, the CPMA says these measures could disproportionately impact the cost and accessibility of fresh produce in rural and remote areas across the country. The organization also cited apprehension among almost two-thirds of Canadian consumers regarding potential price increases and outcomes.

Moreover, there is an elevated risk of food safety incidents and foodborne illnesses due to the amendments. The analysis suggests that the projected decline in fresh produce consumption may contribute to a yearly increase in health care costs exceeding $1 billion.

Proposed regulations, aimed at reducing pollution from primary food packaging, need an evidential basis and comprehensive consultation with industry stakeholders, the organization says.

The CPMA is urging the Canadian government to reconsider proposed regulatory and policy actions targeting primary packaging for fresh produce. It’s also advocating for a pause in developing and implementing these measures to allow for a more comprehensive assessment. They recommend active engagement with the Canadian and international fresh produce sectors to explore sustainable packaging solutions collaboratively, emphasizing the importance of leveraging ongoing industry efforts. Additionally, the CPMA suggests considering alternative actions that address environmental concerns without compromising factors such as fresh produce affordability and availability.

To address the concerns raised, the CPMA is proposing specific actions. Firstly, they recommend identifying and addressing gaps in the circular economy infrastructure, mainly focusing on food-grade materials within the recycling process.

Secondly, they advise advancing and supporting international standards for sustainable packaging solutions, citing compostable PLU stickers. Thirdly, collaboration with the fresh produce industry is suggested to support the development of an innovative portfolio of sustainable packaging solutions. The CPMA is also emphasizing the government’s need to support the development of life cycle analysis methodologies that consider the entire fresh produce supply chain.

Lastly, to bridge the gap between industry practices and consumer understanding, the CPMA is recommending working with the fresh produce industry to develop consumer awareness campaigns highlighting ongoing efforts to minimize environmental impacts while ensuring food affordability, availability, and safety.

The CPMA analysis also suggests that a more collaborative and evidence-based approach is essential to finding sustainable solutions. For primary packaging in the fresh produce industry, ensuring a balance between environmental responsibility and the complexities of the supply chain is vital.

“It’s a global discussion, and we’re seeing a potential impact on the industry by jumping too far ahead of the global market on the PLU sticker and eliminating Canada as a market destination market for both products. They’re focused on February, but this government has a short shelf life. They’re hosting U.N. meetings in April. And they would like to put something shining in the window to show the world what they’re doing. They’re being proactive, which is the wrong approach. Just because it’s shiny doesn’t mean it’s actually going to be successful,” Lemaire said.

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