Heinz plant closure part of trend squeezing farmers out of Canada’s system, says NFU

(Nov. 20, 2013 - Leamington, ON) – The closure of the Heinz ketchup plant announced last week is the latest of several Canadian food processing plants bought and then closed by investors that move production to other countries in pursuit of higher profits. The trend bodes ill for Canadians who want to eat food that is grown and processed within our borders, and is a direct result of the federal government’s policy drive to expand agri-food exports at the expense of Canadian food sovereignty.

“Since 1989, Heinz’s Leamington plant has shut down the pickle line, its peach, baked bean, soups and vegetable canning lines, the frozen vegetable product line and its vinegar operation. From hundreds of products, now all that is left is baby food and tomato product lines. Even so, the plant was still very profitable,” said Mike Tremblay, Essex County Local NFU-O President. “The new owners want even higher profits, and free trade deals just make it easier for processors to pick up and move, leaving our farmers with no market for their tomatoes and other vegetables, and putting hundreds of local people out of work.”

Canada’s produce growers work hand-in-hand with the processors. Although the growing season is short, producers can provide fruit and vegetables year-round as long as there are companies to can, freeze and package what we produce for longer-term storage. A viable food processing sector and farmers with the capacity to produce enough of the foods necessary for a balanced diet are critical parts of a successful food system.   

“It is ironic that as Canadians are becoming more interested in buying locally-produced food, our supermarkets have less access to products that are actually grown in Canada,” said John Sutherland, NFU Ontario President. “According to Statistics Canada, the total area used to grow vegetables declined by 13.5% between 2006 and 2011, due primarily to the loss of processing capacity. The only way to reverse this problem is to refocus Canada’s food policy to promote food sovereignty instead of commodity exports.”

NFU Vice President (Policy) and BC vegetable producer, Colleen Ross commented, “It would be a shame if local farmland that is so well-suited to vegetable production could no longer be used due simply to the lack of processing capacity. There are pockets in each province where the combination of excellent soil and micro-climate makes ideal vegetable-growing conditions. Without policies to ensure local and regional processors’ survival, our farmers can’t make a living and Canadians will end up eating even more imported fruit and vegetables.”

In recent years, the CanGro fruit, tomato and vegetable plant in Exeter, north of London, ON and its peach plant at St. Davids in the Niagara region, along with the Bick’s pickle plant in Dunnville, ON were purchased by US-based multinational corporations and then closed. The local farmers who grew vegetables for them have either quit, now export produce for lower prices or have switched to growing crops such as soybeans, corn and wheat. Increasingly, grocery stores are buying food that used to be grown in Canada from companies that have shifted production to lower-cost processing facilities in India, Brazil, United States, Mexico and elsewhere.

“This is the price that ordinary Canadians – in this case, farmers and workers – pay for a food system dominated by global corporate interests,” Ross declared. “For these corporations ‘local’ is simply wherever they can get the cheapest price.”

- 30 -

For more information:

Mike Tremblay, President, Essex Co. NFU-O Local: 519-682-3649
John Sutherland, President NFU-O: 519-855-4651
Colleen Ross, NFU Vice-President (Policy):  613-213-1522