Food Movement Gathers Momentum at Ottawa Food Policy Summit

Tuesday, July 4, 2017 - 3:20pm

As part of its process for developing a National Food Policy for Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) convened a Food Summit in Ottawa on June 22-23. The two-day event brought together over 300 diverse stakeholders from across the country to brainstorm, discuss and workshop key principles and priorities for a national food policy. Food Secure Canada was in attendance along with many of our members and allies from across the country. FSC organized a meeting of NGO and academic attendees the day prior to the official summit to brief our members on the federal government’s current food-policy initiatives.

The Summit’s agenda was ambitious. Over the course of the two days, participants heard from Minister of Agriculture and Agri-food Lawrence MacAulay, as well as senior officials within AAFC and Health Canada, and Parliamentary Secretaries Jean-Claude Poissant (Agriculture and Agri-Food), Yvonne Jones (Indigenous and Northern Affairs) and Adam Vaughan (Families, Children and Social Development). Food Secure Canada has long insisted that an effective national food policy must have an integrated and whole-of-government approach, so we were encouraged to see representatives from so many departments.

Participants tackled the overall vision for a national food policy and its guiding principles and engaged in a more in-depth discussion on each of the government's four themes: increasing access to affordable food; improving health and food safety; conserving our soil, water, and air; and growing more high-quality food.

We do not often have the opportunity to tackle these issues in a government-sponsored forum, with farmers, food bank and community food centre representatives, Indigenous leaders, environmental activists, industry associations, foundations, nutritionists, academics, and others rolling up their sleeves and talking about how to improve our food system.

The government heard loud and clear that addressing food insecurity is not simply a question of affordability or market access, but rather an issue of human rights, Indigenous food sovereignty and vitally important income supports. On the issue of conserving our soil, water and air, participants urged the government to include the protection of land and biodiversity. Questions were also raised about whether the goal of 'growing more high-quality food' should be an objective of a national food policy or whether the focus should be on improving the sustainability and distribution of our existing food system, reducing waste, and improving the livelihoods of farmers, workers and business.

While there was an incredible diversity of innovative proposals and perspectives brought to the fore, a few ideas came up again and again over the course of the two days. First was the need for a new governance structure that would give civil society a real voice at the table and ensure this national food policy does not become just another document that sits on a shelf. Second, was the need not only to consult Indigenous communities, but to recognize and respect Indigenous governments and engage with them alongside the other levels of government (provincial/territorial and municipal). Finally, many questions were raised as to how this national policy will be implemented, particularly whether there will be a financial commitment to support its objectives and priorities and the many innovations being rolled out across the country.  

The Food Summit was in many ways a historic moment for Canada's food movement to come together and unite our voices in urging the federal government to address the many challenges facing our food system. And the conversation is not over. Over the summer, the government will be holding regional consultation events (stay tuned for details) and MPs from all parties have been encouraged to hold events in their own ridings, the first of which is being held in Toronto on July 5th.

You too can join the conversation! Share your thoughts on social media with the hashtag #FoodPolicy4Canada, write your MPs to tell them you care about national food policy and make-sure you fill out the government's online survey before July 27th.