The federal government has unveiled details of the country’s first national food policy, with a plan that emphasizes the importance of access to healthy and nutritious food and the need for collaboration between the many different groups involved in the food system.
Since announcing in 2015 its intention to create a national food policy – the first attempt by the federal government to create a single cohesive policy across the many departments and stakeholders that deal with food – the Liberal government has provided few details.
On Monday, Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau finally announced the launch of the $134-million policy. She also revealed for the first time the overarching goal: to provide all Canadians with “access to a sufficient amount of safe, nutritious and culturally diverse food.”
Among the initiatives: A $50-million local food infrastructure fund to support community-led projects such as greenhouses, food banks and farmer’s markets; $15-million toward addressing food insecurity in northern and isolated communities; and $25-million to create a “buy Canada” promotional campaign.
“The idea is really to work together as a good food system to allow all Canadians [to] have access to good food,” Ms. Bibeau said in an interview.
Throughout Ms. Bibeau’s announcement Monday were references to “access” and the importance of reducing food insecurity (defined as inadequate access to safe and nutritious food). One in eight households in Canada are food insecure, according to recent estimates in a University of Toronto study and based on the Canadian Community Health Survey.
In Canada’s North, up to 46 per cent say they have inadequate access to food.
Early on in the process, groups that tackle food insecurity had feared that their interests might be overshadowed by those of the food and agriculture industries. Those fears were stoked two years ago, when Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada released an early report on its work. That report emphasized the importance of fisheries, agriculture and the food-processing industries to the country’s economy.
Immediately after that report, “people pushed back,” said Nick Saul, president and chief executive of Community Food Centres Canada. As a result, “I think we got something that’s more measured and more resonant with the way food issues are playing out in our society,” he said.
The policy also aims to create a food system that “is resilient and innovative, sustains our environment, and supports our economy." But the point was never simply to support industry, said Ms. Bibeau said.
“We want a food system that contributes to our economy and that is sustainable in terms of the environment. But it’s not the main objective,” she said. “This program is designed to support the food system – not directly the industry or producers or processors – but the food system for people to have access to good food.”
As part of Monday’s announcement, the government will also create a food policy advisory council. The intention of the group would be to hold government accountable for implementing the national food policy, and to help design future policies.
“Food is so complex and touches so many people in Canada and so many different sectors in Canada, and the council can play such an important role in bringing stakeholders together,” said Lynda Kuhn, a senior vice-president of Maple Leaf lead Foods Inc. and chair of the Maple Leaf Centre for Action on Food Security.
Ms. Kuhn was part of a diverse group lobbying for the creation of such a council – a group that includes health organizations, food security groups, academic researchers, and industry.
FoodShare Toronto executive director Paul Taylor is also in favour of the creation of the advisory council.
But he is less impressed with other aspects of the policy – especially its plan to tackle food insecurity, and lack of mention of income-based interventions. In addition to his role with FoodShare Toronto, Mr. Taylor is seeking the New Democratic Party nomination in a Toronto riding for next October’s federal election.
“We know the issue around food insecurity is largely around income," he said. “This," he said, referring to the government’s proposal, "is not how we respond to a crisis like food insecurity.”
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