Waiting for A Food Policy for Canada

Friday, July 20, 2018 - 11:51am

After years of lobbying by Food Secure Canada (FSC) and others, in November 2015 the Trudeau government charged the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food (AAFC) to lead on the development of a national food policy. With the policy originally expected to be announced in May 2018, online and in-person consultations were held hastily over the summer of 2017. But we’re still waiting for the What We Heard report from those hearings, let alone the policy itself. We are hoping this prolonged process signals that a substantive instrument towards a healthier and more sustainable food system is on its way.


Food Movement Agenda

As we wait, FSC has been actively pushing its agenda. Catch up on all our policy positions, including our summary Five Big Ideas for a Better Food System.

In case you missed anything, here are some of the ways we have been making our case over recent months:

It is worth noting that there has been a report back from AAFC on their consultations with First Nations about agricultural issues and their programs and future plans, including the Canadian Agricultural Partnership and A Food Policy for Canada. The What We Heard Report came out in June with eight highlighted themes including, of course, access to land.


Parliamentary Round-Up

Meanwhile, MPs and Senators have been championing school food and local food. The Coalition for Healthy School Food issued a press statement in support of  Senator Art Eggleton’s motion calling on the federal government to launch a national nutrition program for children and youth. Senate Motion no. 358 was introduced in mid-June and will be debated during the next session of the Senate. We were also delighted to learn that the Federation of Canadian Municipalities has endorsed the call of the Coalition for a universal healthy school food program.

On June 7, 2018, the Coalition was invited to be a witness for the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health’s study of the Canada Food Guide. While the meeting was unfortunately cancelled on the day of the presentation, the brief, which highlights the significant opportunity that exists for a national universal school food program to bring Canada's Food Guide to life for children and youth, is available for download from the HESA website.

Food Secure Canada also welcomed Bill C-281, introduced by Wayne Stetski MP, which designates the Friday before Thanksgiving as National Local Food Day. The Bill received unanimous support in the House of Commons at 2nd Reading, was approved by the Agriculture Committee and will now move to Third Reading debate when the House resumes in the fall. Here are ways to support this effort  #CelebrateLocalFood.


Corporate Growth Agenda

Finally, as we wait for news about A Food Policy for Canada, the drive for growth in the sector gathers pace. Agri-food was identified as a priority export growth sector by the government’s Advisory Council on Economic Growth. Their “Barton report" established an ambitious target of $75 billion for agri-food exports by 2025, with scant regard for local and domestic markets, food security or impacts on climate change targets. Two recent developments that promote this agenda are worth noting.

Firstly, removing bottlenecks to innovation and investment in agri-food and aquaculture is the overarching aim of a sectoral regulatory review initiated by Canada’s Treasury Board in its 2018-2019 departmental plan. While business is already engaging with the process, civil society involvement can ensure that the industry case is balanced by the concerns of other stakeholders. Better health, safety and environmental outcomes must not be sidelined in a rush to harvest growth. This is a chance to address ongoing “regulatory failures” including: rising anti-microbial resistance; overdue approvals of “green chemicals” for pest management; incoherent or missing environmental protections; and addressing gene editing.

(While on the subject of standards setting, note that the regulations arising from the Safe Food for Canadians Act will finally be in force from January 2019, having been in preparation since the Act was passed in parliament in 2012.) 

Secondly, it’s business as usual at the Agri-food Economic Strategy Table, recommended by the Barton report and duly established after the 2017 Budget as an industry-only CEO-led roundtable chaired by the deputy ministers of Industry and Agriculture, John Knubley and Chris Forbes. Their Interim Report, Agri-Food: The sector today and opportunities for tomorrow, also isolates growth from wider considerations about Canada’s food system and policy promises, including A Food Policy for Canada. Environmental, health and equity issues are absent from the priorities identified by this influential group.