Eight Growing Season Until the 2030 Deadline to Meet the SDGs: Getting Canada’s Food Policy on Track

The new Canadian government has a lot on its plate. As our newly elected officials begin to set their work plans and mandates, a priority should be taking significant steps towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

Canada, along with 192 other countries, signed on to this six years ago and reaffirmed its commitment to the Goals in July 2021. Experts have criticized the Government of Canada for its lack of progress so far. For example, The Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development in the Office of the Auditor General of Canada acknowledged the good groundwork but also highlighted the limitations:

“In year 6 of 15, the federal government should have moved beyond working on the foundations of an important and ambitious program like this. I believe that it is essential for the federal government to pick up the pace because much more work is needed to achieve sustainable outcomes for all Canadians by 2030.” – Jerry Demarco, Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, Office of the Auditor General of Canada.

The COVID-19 pandemic interrupted progress towards the SDGs, including Goal 2: Zero Hunger. According to a report produced by Community Food Centres Canada, 4.5 million or one in seven Canadians experience food insecurity, disproportionately impacting low-income and BIPOC communities. However, as we move towards recovery, a zero hunger Canada is within reach. This article outlines how to achieve this while addressing poverty, the root cause of food insecurity. At its core, addressing food insecurity requires a food systems approach (Looking at food beyond food security, addressing all aspects of the food system), an approach the federal government can apply that can help to achieve many SDGs. Food Secure Canada outlined specific steps in a recent letter to incoming Prime Minister Trudeau, as did the Coalition for Healthy School Food.  Food systems transcend social, environmental, and economic boundaries, with great potential to affect the health and wellbeing of people while addressing the climate and biodiversity crises. Transforming the food system into one that supports healthy diets in sustainable, resilient, just, and equitable ways can create significant progress towards the SDGs. While the global food system is an important driver of climate change, a transformed food system can greatly contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation while improving livelihoods and human health. However, forthcoming decisions on food systems governance by our elected officials will play a large role in determining whose interests  food systems will serve in the coming years. An analysis conducted on Canada’s 2019 food policy by Carleton University researchers finds that

“The Food Policy for Canada needs to adopt an integrative, pan-Canadian approach; explicitly connects health and environmental dimensions of food; augments food security in a systematic way; addresses unique food security and health issues facing Indigenous Peoples; improves the health of food environments, such as those in Canada’s schools; and, meaningfully includes relevant stakeholders in food system governance. Against these expectations, we assert that the Food Policy for Canada does not yet provide an integrative, systems-based approach to addressing food and nutrition-related health issues consistent with the ecological public health approach, despite significant progress made.”

Additionally, a recent study concluded that to achieve the 2030 goals, food systems must be part of the solution. The study also noted that existing Indigenous, local, and circular food systems can provide positive lessons for other societies and places.  Accordingly, governments need to engage and actively listen to Indigenous peoples, and civil society actors championing the public interest  to identify food systems solutions.

In the lead-up to Canada’s 2021 Election campaign, Food Secure Canada launched the 3rd edition of Eat Think Vote, a non-partisan campaign which brought communities together with candidates to put food on the election agenda. We shared Food Secure Canada’s ideas and policy priorities based on consultations with movement members. We outlined policy proposals for food system priorities for the prospective government in light of the looming 2030 deadline, and a current failing food system, especially as Indigenous Black and racialized communities are disproportionately affected. We used the SDG framework for our policy proposals as they represent objectives to which we can hold our governments accountable, provide a yardstick for progress, and act as a common ground as we work for change in partnership with actors across sectors, departments, and levels of government. Learn more about our policy priorities to put Canada on the right track for Agenda 2030 and start a much-needed transformation to our food system.