Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food

Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food - February 29th, 2012

Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak with you this afternoon. It is a great honour to be with you, our elected representatives. You are working to make Canada a better place, and to build a better future for food in Canada. Food Secure Canada shares wholeheartedly in these important goals.

My name is Anna Paskal, and I am the Senior Policy Advisor for Food Secure Canada. As you may know, Food Secure Canada is the only national organization bringing together the Canadian food movement in all its diversity. Food Secure Canada members includes farmers, fishermen and women, dietitians, public health officials, teachers, nutritionists, food bank workers, provincial and territorial food networks, international development NGOs, unions, academics and much more. Our common goal is to work across silos and geographies to build a healthy, fair and ecological food system.

We are here today in the context of the Growing Forward renewal process to discuss “Meeting consumer demand”. We believe Food Secure Canada is well-placed to comment on this issue – and to provide some thoughts on links between what consumers have told us they want, and how genuinely meeting these needs will help to build a stronger and healthier country for us all.

Food Secure Canada is emerging from an unprecedented country-wide undertaking called the People’s Food Policy. The People’s Food Policy was a citizen-led initiative to develop a national food policy for Canada. This policy is grounded in the principles of food sovereignty. Food sovereignty is an approach which privileges people, communities and nation-states having the right to define their own food systems. Over the course of several years, over 3500 Canadians participated in developing the policy by holding hundreds of Kitchen Table Talks in their communities, sending in policy submissions, working on volunteer policy writing teams and more. This involved thousands of real people gathering around real kitchen tables, talking about real experiences with food, in both urban and rural communities, from coast to coast to coast.

The result is an over-arching summary document entitled, “Resetting the Table: A People’s Food Policy for Canada”, which was forwarded to you in advance of this appearance. The process also produced ten detailed policy documents, and you were forwarded the most relevant of these, on Agriculture, Infrastructure and Livelihoods. The others focus on issues such as fisheries, health,

indigenous food systems, international food policy, science and technology and more. Taken as a whole, the People’s Food Policy is the most comprehensive national food policy being advanced in Canada today.

The impetus for developing the People’s Food Policy began from a key starting point - our food system is failing Canadians. Close to two and a half million Canadians regularly don’t have enough to eat. Thousands of family farms are disappearing. One in four Canadians is considered obese. And the environment is being pushed to the limit by the industrial food system which is one of the leading contributors to climate change. The status quo is no longer an option.

Canada can be a global leader by seizing the opportunity presented by this policy review, as well as others such as the renegotiation of the Health Accord, to build the foundation for a new Canadian food system. A new food system that ensures safe and healthy food for all, while strengthening economies, environments, and the overall health of our population.

This approach would be based on the number one priority to emerge from the People’s Food Policy – support for ecological local food systems. One after another, urban and rural, Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians told the People’s Food Policy that they want to serve their families food produced and processed closer to home, using ecological methods of production. This would mean developing sustainable local food systems as a top policy priority. Concretely, it would mean shifting away from prioritizing commodity-based, export-focused goals for Canadian agriculture, and towards regional or community-based, sustainability-focused value chains.

The potential benefits are huge. Local selling and processing opportunities shorten the food chain which has cost savings as well as environmental benefits. Working this way more closely links farmers to food-buying citizens, maximizing the dollars that farmers receive. Re-building local and regional food economies revitalizes rural and remote areas, as well as brings healthy and fresh food to more people, including those who live in urban communities. A shift to fresh and healthy food based on local ingredients can bring great benefits to Canadians – from school children, to people recovering in our hospitals. It is anticipated that with a shift of this nature there would be reductions in healthcare and social costs, as well gains in environmental and other “externalities”. Supporting sustainable local food production is the very definition of a win-win policy approach.

There are many examples of how to build local and sustainable food systems which have emerged from Food Secure Canada’s entrepreneurial and innovative community and others in the food movement. You have heard about some of them, including FarmStart – an NGO which supports new and young ecological farmers by offering them chances to try farming and increase responsibility over time leading to the establishment of their own farms – with technical and business support along the way. Others include Local Food Plus which helps to build regional food economies through local sustainable procurement – including through matching producers and buyers and providing a local/sustainable certification service. FoodShare, based in Toronto, runs a “food hub” where they buy fresh fruit and vegetables from local producers and then make these available at affordable rates to hundreds of school snack and lunch programs, and to the local community through Good Food boxes and more. These are but a handful of the ground-breaking sustainable local food programs which would benefit from additional funding, and enabling policy environments which would facilitate the scaling up of these proven initiatives.

Many members of the general public are already supporting positive and forward-looking food systems – demonstrating unprecedented interest in local and sustainable food, building direct relationships with food providers, etc. However to really make systemic change and fully reap the benefits outlined above, we must build support for sustainable local food into our policy processes. Key to this are the federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal procurement sectors. Our schools, hospitals, universities, correctional facilities, care homes, legislatures, and government offices can be powerful allies in building the food system that citizens told the People’s Food Policy they want.

If there is one request Food Secure Canada would submit for your consideration as you move forward – it would be to make the most of this policy renewal opportunity by supporting a “Sustainable Local Food Strategy” component to the Growing Forward framework. An overt, clear strategy, as well as associated financial support for sustainable local food can help to address the many challenges facing our country, and our food system. A “Sustainable Local Food Strategy” would address the broad outcomes desired for the Growing Forward renewal, namely competitiveness and market growth, and adaptability and sustainability. Though I have limited my presentation to overall messages, details on specific policies which could be implemented to advance a Sustainable Local Food Strategy are outlined in the documents which were forwarded to you in advance of this meeting, and I would be pleased to expand on this in the question period in case of interest. Food Secure Canada and our membership would also be pleased to work together to explore additional policy options.

By supporting local food producers, regional food processing, and local food infrastructure - and by building community and institutional demand for local and sustainable food - we can build a new food system for Canada. This will require a significant shift in focus for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and other government departments  – but we can do it – and there will be widespread support from the citizens of this country. If we can quadruple food exports in twenty years, as we have just done, then surely we can quadruple how much sustainably-produced Canadian food is being produced, processed and eaten close to home. We can work together to build on the tremendous innovation that is already sustaining diverse, decentralized, resilient food production and processing systems. We can do this through a comprehensive federally-funded Sustainable Local Food Strategy.  In so doing, we can enhance the strength of our economies, the resilience of our environments and the health of our population. With your active support, we can make this happen.