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Ethics and environment: the Canadian food choice

Social and environmental concerns are playing an increasingly important role in consumer choices. Corporate social responsibility has become a prerequisite for the majority of Canadians, who expect companies to adopt high ethical and environmental standards.

Consumers, increasingly aware of food production and processing methods, are seeking more information about the environmental impacts of their dietary choices. The more curious ones discover that by choosing local foods, it may generate less greenhouse emissions, and that intensive agriculture and the massive use of pesticides harm biodiversity and pollute waterways.

Food policy and industrial responsibility

In response to consumer concerns, the Quebec government has implemented a food policy, one of the targets of which is to increase the implementation of responsible business practices. Its ambitious Plan d’agriculture durable 2020-2030 aims to accelerate the adoption of better agro-environmental practices, such as reducing the use of pesticides and the risks associated with them; improving soil health and conservation; improving the management of fertilizing substances; optimizing water management; improving biodiversity. The food policy also includes an action plan to support initiatives for sustainable and strategic development in the food industry.

The growing demand for more responsible products also encourages food companies to innovate and make changes. Agricultural and agri-food processing companies are working to collect data to quantify the carbon footprint associated with their activities and implement an action plan to reduce it. However, there are significant costs associated with changing cultivation, production, and food processing methods to meet new societal demands regarding the environment and sustainable development. According to some industry players, this results in unfair competition in retail pricing with imported products from the United States and Mexico, which do not meet these new criteria. These issues are complex and frequently make headlines, as they touch on several social justice, environmental, and international trade issues.

In terms of federal policy, the Government of Canada has introduced a number of measures as part of its "zero plastic waste" program. The government is proposing to introduce regulations that include three key elements:

  • requirements for recycled content that impose minimum levels of post-consumer recycled plastics in packaging;
  • revised recyclability labelling rules;
  • labeling rules for compostability that prohibit the use of the terms "biodegradable" or "degradable" on plastic packaging.

Over the coming months, NATIONAL will be keeping a close eye on these issues, which are having a major impact on the biofood sector in Quebec and Canada. And the pan-Canadian public affairs team will continue to monitor developments concerning the demands of players in the industry.

Corporate communication and sustainability

Directors and managers of agri-food businesses do not always think of integrating their communications plan with their sustainable development strategy. Yet it is crucial to communicate effectively within the company to ensure everyone's commitment. What's more, promoting it externally can be an opportunity to improve the company's employer brand image and, by extension, its staff recruitment and retention rates.

[NATIONAL's experts](/en/landing/national-bioalimentaire-agroalimentaire/" target="_blank) can help you meet this challenge by developing an effective strategy for communicating and delivering the behaviours and engagement you want so your employees embrace change and become your best ambassadors.

——— Jacinthe Côté is a former Senior Director and Leader, Food Sector at NATIONAL Public Relations