From Food Guide to Food Policy: Resetting Canada’s Table

Thursday, February 28, 2019 - 3:15pm

By Diana Bronson and Melana Roberts

Canada’s new Food Guide has been met with a lot of enthusiasm. It is a significant step in the right direction, opening the door to a new era of food policy prioritizing transparency and the public interest, and beginning to make connections between previously siloed aspects of our food system such as health, food security, and agriculture. With references to how poverty influences diet and health, and to the environmental impacts of our food choices, the Food Guide points to bigger picture food system challenges and opportunities. These can only be addressed through a joined-up comprehensive vision for the future of food: the long-awaited Food Policy for Canada.

In 2015, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food was given the mandate to develop a national food policy highlighting the goal of more healthy, high-quality Canadian food on the tables of families across the country. Consultations were held from coast to coast to coast, engaging close to 45,000 Canadians. The resulting What We Heard Report concluded, “[t]he decisions we make every day about food have a direct impact on our communities, health, environment, and economy.” The stakes are high.


Here are our key ingredients for success:

What’s on the table?

Deciding what’s on the table will require genuine participation from a broad diversity of people and organizations: people experiencing food insecurity, Indigenous leaders, organizations and communities running local food programs, new Canadians and many others. Government departments and agencies will have to work together - building bridges across traditional policy-making domains in order to fully develop the links between health, equity, and agriculture. The proposed new National Food Policy Council can be part of the answer. It should have a public-interest mandate, with representation from government, the private sector, research, farming, Indigenous organizations and civil society, helping to bring forward innovative solutions to pressing questions.

Who’s at the table?

Everyone needs a seat at the table to enable healthy eating for all people in Canada. Currently, one in eight households in Canada is food insecure, with disproportionately high levels in Indigenous and northern communities. An income floor, livable minimum wages, increased public housing, better social policies and government-supported, Indigenous-led community initiatives would help Canadians fulfill the right to food.

We must also keep dedicated seats for our kids. Canada was ranked 37th out of 41 wealthy countries when it comes to providing healthy food to children. This is a key moment for the federal government to invest in a national cost-shared universal school food program to ensure that all children are able to make healthy eating an everyday reality, as called for by the National Coalition for Healthy School Food. We must also ensure that Bill S-228 Restricting the Marketing of Unhealthy Foods and Beverages to Children - currently stalled in the Senate - is quickly passed.

Connecting the new Food Guide with local food purchasing by schools, hospitals and other public agencies would help bring more people to the table, significantly increasing access to healthy, local food, while strengthening Canadian farming and rural economies. As noted by farm organizations, the diversity of foods recommended in Canada’s new Food Guide are all foods grown by Canadian farmers.

What are we eating?

Canadians want to know where their food is coming from, how it’s grown, and what’s in it. The Food Guide encourages a shift to a more plant-based diet and cooking from scratch, while raising considerations of the environmental impacts of our food choices. And the What We Heard report notes the importance of using “environmentally sustainable practices to ensure Canadians have a long-term, reliable, and abundant supply of food”. This is a golden opportunity to support a widespread transition toward organic and other agro-ecological farming practices, helping to mitigate climate change. The more Canadians think about their food and where it comes from the better it is for farmers, and for the planet.

Clear labelling is another important ingredient. Proposed regulation to bring in front of package labeling would signal to Canadians whether a food is high in nutrients of concern (sodium, saturated fats and sugars), helping them make healthier dietary choices. This has made it as far as Treasury Board, but industry is pushing back. Let’s make sure the legislation gets over the finish line now, before the end of this government mandate.


The current food policy moment is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to support healthy people, healthy communities, and healthy local economies. Government is being counted on to unveil a comprehensive Food Policy for Canada that delivers on what Canadians have highlighted in consultations time after time - the need for more healthy, sustainable and culturally relevant Canadian food, that is accessible to all.


Diana Bronson is Executive Director of Food Secure Canada.

Melana Roberts is the Chair of Food Secure Canada’s Board of Directors.