Mayors from across southwestern Ontario met Thursday in Toronto to denounce the deregulation of food packaging and demand the minister of agriculture to meet with them to discuss the matter.
The federal government plans to deregulated package sizes. But the 20 mayors worry that will put Ontario food processors at a disadvantage to their American counterparts and cause what processors previously called "massive job loss."
The coalition, led by Tecumseh Mayor Gary McNamara, discussed what they called "the far-reaching economic and social impacts of the proposed selective deregulation."
The change would eliminate regulated package sizes on products including maple syrup, wine, honey, sandwich meats, bacon, and canned and frozen fruits and vegetables.
The coalition of mayors also presented Minister of Agriculture Gerry Ritz with a letter outlining "the dangers that such a move would pose to Canadian families, food processors, and the economy."
"For 50 years, regulated package sizes have provided a level playing field for local producers and have given Canada a stable agricultural investment climate," Leamington Mayor John Paterson said. "With the proposed deregulation, that all changes."
The group wants the federal minister of agriculture to hold a roundtable summit involving everyone with a stake in the matter, to discuss the reforms.
"We're looking at an industry of over $880 million being impacted by the deregulation of the can sizes for the processors," Kingsville Mayor Nelson Santos said. "Companies like Heinz, Bonduelle, Sunbright are all at stake."
Tecumseh Mayor Gary McNamara said Canadian farmers and food producers will rack up huge losses.
"We urge the federal government to think of the devastating impact that deregulation will inevitably have on local and provincial economies," he said. "We're getting numbers that, with all industries combined, and payrolls and contracts and so forth, it's about $880 million and thousands of jobs."
Ritz responds to mayors
"These changes will give consumers more options at the grocery store and give industry more packaging choices," he said in a statement. "Our government is conducting a full and transparent consultation, including examining economic impacts as required when changing regulations through the Canada Gazette process."
In a statement emailed to CBC News in November, Heinz Canada spoke out against the proposed changes. The company said the changes took food processors by surprise.
"The regulatory changes on page 219 in the Federal Government Budget 2012 came as a surprise to many stakeholders, including municipal, provincial and federal representatives, as well as consumers, producers and processors," wrote Andrea Acic. "Of particular concern is the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s intention to deregulate container sizes for many packaged foods sold in Canada. This change does not help consumers and has implications for producers, processors and communities.
"We encourage people to educate themselves on this issue and understand the risks and tradeoffs by visiting KeepFoodJobsInCanada.ca. Then contact their MP and the Honourable Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz to voice their opinion."
The government told CBC last month that the changes are intended to improve Canadian food safety. Because packaging regulations fall under the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), streamlined sizes will free up inspectors to focus on allergy labelling and food inspection elsewhere.
Canadian food processors are not required to retool their plants. They can do so if they choose, a spokesperson for Ritz said.
Processors could apply for funding to retool, doing so through the AgriProcessing Initiative (API), part of the Agricultural Flexibility Fund announced in Budget 2009.
"As was reiterated to industry groups during our most recent consultation last week, there will be a multi-year transition period to ensure a smooth transition for Canadian processors and packagers," Ritz wrote. "We’ll continue to work with industry to bring forward these changes in a way that works best case by case."