Fresh Produce in Peril: The Plastic Predicament and its Impact on Canada and the U.S.
In the United States, Canada stands as the primary destination for exporting fresh fruits and vegetables, constituting roughly half of all U.S. global exports in this category. Whenever significant regulatory changes occur within the Canadian market, the entire U.S. produce industry must sit up and take notice.
- Canada's Role as Export Destination: Canada holds the top position as the primary export market for fresh fruits and vegetables from the United States, accounting for approximately half of all U.S. global exports in this category.
- Impact of Regulatory Changes: When significant regulatory changes take place in the Canadian market, it demands the full attention of the entire U.S. produce industry.
In August 2023, Environment and Climate Change Canada, the government agency responsible for environmental policy, unveiled a preliminary proposal aimed at regulating packaging in Canadian grocery stores. This proposal mandates that by 2026, 75% of all fresh produce sold in Canada must be available either in bulk or in packaging devoid of plastic materials, with a subsequent increase to 95% by 2028.
- Environmental Regulation Proposal: In August 2023, Environment and Climate Change Canada introduced a preliminary proposal aimed at regulating packaging in Canadian grocery stores.
- Plastic-Free Mandate: The proposal sets a goal that by 2026, 75% of all fresh produce sold in Canada must be available either in bulk or in packaging without plastic materials. This percentage increases to 95% by 2028.
Despite the dedicated and ongoing efforts of the fresh produce industry to address climate-related concerns, this proposal appears to lack a foundation in terms of food safety and economic practicality. The ban on plastic packaging has the potential to send ripples of concern throughout the U.S. produce industry and the discerning consumers of Canada.
- Concerns Over Proposal: Despite the consistent efforts of the fresh produce industry to address climate concerns, the proposal is perceived as lacking a foundation in food safety and economic practicality.
- Impact on U.S. Produce Industry: The potential ban on plastic packaging raises concerns within the U.S. produce industry and among Canadian consumers.
Western Growers is fervently urging the Environment and Climate Change Canada to embrace a strategy that advocates for reduced plastic usage while encouraging the development of recyclable plastic materials. This approach aligns with the current standards applied to various consumer goods found within grocery stores. It seems inconceivable that a different, more stringent standard should be imposed on a commodity directly linked to the well-being of Canadian households.
- Advocacy for Reduced Plastic Usage: Western Growers strongly advocates for a strategy that promotes reduced plastic usage and the development of recyclable plastic materials.
- Consistency in Standards: This approach aligns with the existing standards applied to various consumer goods found in grocery stores.
Since the proposal's publication, Western Growers, in collaboration with a select group of Canadian and U.S. allies, has proactively highlighted its inherent flaws to the Environment and Climate Change Canada.
- Engagement with Canadian and U.S. Allies: Western Growers and a group of Canadian and U.S. allies have proactively raised concerns about the proposal with Environment and Climate Change Canada.
First and foremost, while certain crops can be distributed in bulk, such as melons, many other crops necessitate packaging. It's challenging to envision cherries being presented in large cardboard containers.
- Packaging Necessity for Some Crops: Some crops require packaging, making it challenging to avoid it entirely.
- Example of Cherries: Cherries, for instance, are difficult to imagine being sold in large cardboard containers.
Secondly, for numerous crops, some form of plastic packaging plays a pivotal role in ensuring freshness, quality, and food safety. Although the produce industry has been at the forefront of sustainable packaging innovations, utilizing more recycled and recyclable materials than ever before, it's evident that alternatives have yet to reach a stage where the complete elimination of plastic is feasible.
- Importance of Plastic Packaging: Plastic packaging is crucial for preserving freshness, quality, and food safety in many crops.
- Sustainability Efforts: The produce industry has made significant strides in adopting sustainable packaging, including more recycled and recyclable materials.
While fiber-based clamshells may suffice for shipping delicate berries over short distances, they lack the resilience required for long-distance transportation.
- Limitations of Fiber-Based Packaging: Fiber-based clamshells are suitable for short-distance transportation but lack the durability needed for long-distance shipping.
Thirdly, the produce sector maintains an unwavering commitment to food safety and preserving freshness. Plastic's unmatched capacity to curtail food spoilage, waste, and contamination remains paramount. Certain plastic packaging currently in use is engineered to optimize freshness by allowing crops to "breathe" at controlled rates, ensuring the desired quality for consumers until they reach their dinner tables or lunchboxes.
- Food Safety and Freshness Commitment: The produce sector is dedicated to ensuring food safety and freshness.
- Role of Plastic Packaging: Plastic packaging is essential for reducing food spoilage, waste, and contamination, allowing crops to maintain their desired quality for consumers.
The removal of plastics from the equation could potentially lead to increased spoilage and food wastage, thus counteracting the Environment and Climate Change Canada's goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
- Impact of Plastic Removal: Eliminating plastic packaging could lead to increased spoilage and food waste, undermining efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Fourthly, this proposal sets the stage for a potentially catastrophic situation for Canadian consumers. Given that Canada relies heavily on fruit and vegetable imports, with the U.S. supplying half of their total produce, the repercussions could be severe.
- Potential Catastrophe for Canadian Consumers: The proposal has the potential to create a catastrophic situation for Canadian consumers.
- Reliance on U.S. Imports: Canada heavily depends on fruit and vegetable imports from the U.S., comprising half of their total supply.
The official government Food Guide sensibly encourages Canadians to fill half their plates with produce for the sake of good health. However, this becomes a challenging task when a plastic ban results in widespread shortages in the produce section. Canadian consumers are already grappling with significant food price increases at grocery stores, and with the implementation of such a ban, prices are likely to surge further as U.S. growers are compelled to withdraw from the Canadian market.
- Healthy Eating Guidelines: The official government Food Guide advises Canadians to consume half their plates with produce for good health.
- Challenges with Plastic Ban: Implementing a plastic ban could result in shortages in the produce section, making it difficult for Canadians to follow these guidelines.
- Impact on Prices: Prices are also likely to rise due to the withdrawal of U.S. growers from the Canadian market.
The produce industry has been diligently working to reduce the environmental footprint of fresh produce packaging by enhancing compostable fibers, developing biofilms, and employing thinner plastic films. However, we have not yet reached a point where an outright plastic ban would serve any purpose other than negatively impacting consumers.
- Environmental Efforts: The produce industry is actively working to reduce the environmental impact of fresh produce packaging.
- Sustainable Innovations: These efforts include enhancing compostable fibers, developing biofilms, and using thinner plastic films.
- Limited Viability of Plastic Ban: Despite these innovations, an outright plastic ban is currently seen as counterproductive and detrimental to consumers.
The decisions made by the Environment and Climate Change Canada in the upcoming weeks carry significant weight in terms of fresh produce accessibility for Canadian shoppers and the economic sustainability of U.S. growers, especially if technical trade barriers are introduced. We remain hopeful that the Environment and Climate Change Canada will find a balance between its environmental mission and the imperative of ensuring fresh produce availability for all Canadians.
- Impact of Upcoming Decisions: The decisions made by the Environment and Climate Change Canada will significantly affect fresh produce accessibility for Canadian shoppers and the economic sustainability of U.S. growers.
- Hope for a Balanced Approach: There is hope that the Environment and Climate Change Canada will strike a balance between its environmental goals and ensuring fresh produce availability for all Canadians.