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The Conference Board of Canada has convened a Food Summit on April 9 and 10 in Toronto where participants further elaborated its industry-sponsored Canadian Food Strategy. The cost of admission was more than $1,000 and, despite repeated requests, Food Secure Canada was not invited to discuss national food policy in this venue.
We are concerned that the values of thousands of Canadians will not be included in discussions that may contribute to formation of national policy.
Let’s ensure our voices can be heard!
You can post comments on our Citizen’s blog. Please share your concerns about national food strategies on “What do you think?” thread. If you filled in the Conference Board’s online questionnaire or participated in a consultation meeting, please post your comments on the “What participants are saying” thread. You may also email the Food Secure Canada office with “CBOC Summit” in the subject line, and the moderator will respond.
On April 8, we hosted “Tasting Food Democracy” in Toronto. The video recording of this event will be available shortly.
We believe Canadians want a national food policy that sees food from the perspective of sovereignty (control from the ground up) and as a public good (rather than only as a profitable commodity). Food Secure Canada’s blueprint for a national food policy, Resetting the Table (2011) embodies these values. We consulted 3,500 Canadians during its development.
However, no proposal can become national policy unless it is adopted by the federal government, and ours is not the only framework proposed. The Canadian Federation of Agriculture’s Towards a National Food Strategy[i] and the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute’s Canada’s Agri-Food Destination: A New Strategic Approach[ii] were also published in 2011. The Conference Board of Canada’s work on a Canadian Food Strategy[iii] is currently under way.
The other three proposals provide some key agriculture and food perspectives and material for discussion. None is as wide-ranging, as grounded, or as holistic as Food Secure Canada’s.
We need a food policy for Canadians - not Corporations
by Diana Bronson, Executive Director, Food Secure Canada
Published in iPolitics December 20, 2012
Christmas can bring out the best in us. We’re encouraged to think of others and remember the holiday season’s humble beginnings. Some invite the lonely to share a meal, while others volunteer at their local food banks. If the crass commercialism is hard to avoid, at least we console ourselves by shopping for others. And then there’s always a moment when the Dickensian ghost of Christmas future descends upon us, encouraging shifts in behavior.
Conference Board Tests the Waters
November 22, 2012 -- What does the Canadian food industry think a national food strategy should contain? That is the question the Conference Board has endeavoured to answer a process led by “investors” Loblaws, Maple Leaf Foods, Heinz, Nestlé, Parmalat (amongst others) and various government departments -- each of which needed to invest tens of thousands of dollars just to sit at the table!
Not surprisingly, civil society voices are few and far between -- mostly foundations who have the resources to participate. A number of research papers have been commissioned, an electronic survey is circulating, and some people are being invited to “consultations” that are going on in cities across the country while another Food Summit is planned for April in Toronto.
The Conference Board claims its approach is “comprehensive” but the project’s governance structure is industry-led and that is reflected in the priorities chosen and the questions asked. This partiality was pointed out by Canadian Association of Food Studies President Steffanie Scott after last year’s summit.
Many Food Secure Canada members are participating in this high-profile inquiry but the fact remains that it is government, not industry, that needs to elaborate a national food policy and all stakeholders, not just the powerful ones, need to be around the table. The People Food Policy is a better starting point than an exclusive group of food company executives with huge economic stakes in the very policy outcomes being discussed. The discussion continues!
More Voices Needed on National Food Strategy
by Steffanie Scott (Director of the local economic development program at the University of Waterloo and Vice-President of the Canadian Association for Food Studies)
March 2012 -- Who’s setting the table for the food that Canadians are eating? And who should be involved in establishing a national food strategy for Canadians?
Between 2008 and 2011, over 3500 Canadians participated in ‘kitchen table talks’, a process that culminated in the publication of Resetting the Table: A People's Food Policy for Canada. The report was coordinated by Food Secure Canada, a national network of people and organizations mobilized around three priorities: zero hunger, healthy and safe food, and sustainable food production and distribution systems.
In stark distinction to this grassroots process, and to these priorities, this past week in Toronto the Conference Board of Canada hosted a food industry-sponsored Canadian Food Summit 2012, and the Conference Board is purporting to be leading a process to create a Canadian Food Strategy.
First, through establishing the Centre for Food in Canada, the Conference Board of Canada is positioning itself as a legitimate convener to create a Canadian Food Strategy. And yet there was no acknowledgement from the Conference Board staff (until after I mentioned it in a question period) of the existence of the People’s Food Policy. Nor was anyone involved in this undertaking permitted to be part of the Summit’s agenda.
And although Food Secure Canada’s People’s Food Policy is the most comprehensive policy document produced to date, it not the only such initiative: in the past year, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture released Towards a National Food Strategy and the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute produced Canada's Agri-Food Destination.
Details of the Conference Board’s plans for consultations to develop its own Canadian Food Strategy are not clear, nor are its plans to take into account proposals already generated and networks already mobilized through the three initiatives identified above. I suspect the Conference Board will face challenges in positioning its new Centre for Food in Canada as the most legitimate convener to shape a major new Canadian Food Strategy.
Second, the agenda of this two-day event reflected a narrow range of viewpoints. Keynote speakers on Day 1 included the CEOs of Loblaw Companies and Maple Leaf Foods. Only in much smaller breakout sessions could participants hear the perspectives of people like Lauren Baker, Coordinator of the Toronto Food Policy Council, or Kim Raine, an academic who studies social and environmental determinants of the emerging obesity epidemic. Nick Saul, Executive Director of The Stop Community Food Centre, indicated that it was the first major food strategy event that he’d attended that didn’t have a dedicated session on hunger in Canada. This is particularly deplorable given the background of the Conference Board’s president, Anne Golden, who formerly worked on social and poverty issues with the United Way in Toronto.
The predominant messages from many of the plenary sessions were that price is king, factory farming is necessary, and government's role is to get out of the way (no one mentioned its role as protector of its citizens’ wellbeing). The local food economy, small and medium scale food production, processing, and retailing, community gardens, and issues of hunger and poverty in Canada were largely relegated to a light-hearted evening debate and to the penultimate session on Day 2 after which many of the corporate sponsors—which even included IBM and CIBC—had left. The fact that the Summit organizers arranged separate tables at the front of the room for its sponsors is itself indicative of its efforts to not encourage broad-based discussion.
Third, the Conference Board’s purported ‘holistic’ approach to food is in practice extremely narrow. Most glaring was the interpretation of food security as meaning industry viability. Ecological considerations appeared important only insofar as they helped to maintain economic competitiveness. Too bad none of the Summit organizers went to hear Diet for a Small Planet author Frances Moore Lappé on her speaking tour a few weeks ago in Toronto and Ottawa.
Fourth, the quality of the research produced by the new Centre for Food in Canada has been disappointing. During one of the sessions at which they presented findings from a household survey on consumers, food, and health, informed analysts in the audience identified one after another flaw in the study’s methodology.
The Conference Board’s process is structurally flawed. Since ‘investors’ — large-scale industry and government partners — pay in to be part of the Centre, this ties the hands of the Conference Board to produce any meaningful analysis about the challenges facing the food system. A multimillion-dollar budget will ensure widespread dissemination and access to decision-makers, even though the quality of the research has been abysmal, and an expert review process for the research is sorely lacking. This appears to be a form of privatized policy development, with only a veil of consultation.
The vision offered by the Conference Board for a national food strategy is the status quo: the same kind of market based growth strategy that only emphasizes boosting productivity and availability of food. In the last 15 to 20 years of agricultural policy making, we have consistently seen government piggybacking on industry processes.
Yet, there are many more voices to be included. The fact that over 500 people, from all angles of the food system, chose to attend the Canadian Food Summit indicates that there are many people, within and beyond industry and government, who are keen to be part of the conversation in shaping a national food strategy. The Conference Board would be wise to ensure that they design a truly inclusive consultation process and ensure they are not continuing to endorse systems that work for very few members of society.
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