Food Packaging Deregulation 'off the table' MP says

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

CBC News

A federal MP tells CBC News that the deregulation of food packing is "off the table."

At a town hall meeting addressing the upcoming closure of the Heinz processing plant in Leamington, Ont., Chatham-Kent-Essex Conservative MPP Rick Nicholls told the audience Ottawa has officially scrapped the idea.

The riding's federal MP, David Van Kesteren, then confirmed the decision to CBC News in an email.

"On behalf of Dave Van Kesteren, I confirm that de-regulation [is] 'off the table,'” Van Kesteren's legislative assistant wrote, offering no other comment.

In a written statement, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz would only say "regulations remain the same as they were last year and for many years prior."

"Our Government continues to consult on a number of issues and work with the food processing industry to ensure their long term economic success," Ritz said.

Food safety
The proposed changes, found on page 219 in the Federal Government Budget 2012, would streamline canning and package so the sizes would be the same on both sides of the border.

Previously, Ritz said food safety will be improved because less time will be spent chasing minor packing infractions. Food packaging size is currently monitored by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, under the Ministry of Agriculture.

Ritz told CBC News last year that officials "spend more time than you'd think" enforcing the sizes.

Last year, Tecumseh, Ont., Mayor Gary McNamara led the charge against the deregulation of food packages.

He fears such changes would have devastating consequences on food processing jobs in Canada, including the Bonduelle vegetable processing plant in his own town.

He is pleased by Van Kesteren's statements but wants to hear from Ritz.

"What we need right now is confirmation that it's off the books, that this is dead on the vine so to speak, no pun intended," McNamara said.

McNamara and others are worried multinational food companies would shift operations to the United States if food packaging regulations are changed.

The Bonduelle plant is his town's biggest employer.

Food processing employs thousands
He wants the company to also have assurance from Ottawa the rules won't change.

"It's great for the industry to know that as well," McNamara said. "Because if they're going to be making innovative investments into their companies, they need to have that security that moving forward, two years, three years, four years and five years down the road, that they're still going to be able to be in business in Canada."

The mayors of Tecumseh, Leamington and Kingsville fear that if the federal government repeals the law that regulates the sizes of packaged foods sold in Canada it will cost the region up to 5,000 jobs.

Heinz, Bonduelle and Sunbrite all have operations in southern Ontario.

Heinz, prior to announcing the closure of its Leamington plant, spoke out against proposed changes.

"This change does not help consumers and has implications for producers, processors and communities," Heinz told CBC News a year ago.

The company will close its Leamington plant in mid-2014 and still has a facility in St. Marys, Ont.