UPDATE: We've updated this post based on new information from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.
On June 17, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Marie-Claude Bibeau announced the long-awaited A Food Policy for Canada. More than 45,000 Canadians participated in consultations, online, through written submissions, and at community events.
The food policy sets forth the vision that “all people in Canada are able to access a sufficient amount of safe, nutritious and culturally diverse food, [and that] Canada’s food system is resilient and innovative, sustains our environment, and supports our economy.”
This reflects an integrated approach to food policy and shows the government listened to the priorities of Canadians, who do not see food simply as a commodity, and who envision a food system that supports all Canadians to have access to healthy, sustainable diets.
A Food Policy for Canada is a good start toward building this kind of food system and will create some important programs that will make a difference for Canadian communities. Ultimately, to get to a Canada where everyone has access to the safe, nutritious, and culturally diverse food they need, we must address systemic barriers like poverty. However, this funding will be an important support to community food programs and represent the beginning of important investments in the health and wellbeing of Canadians.
New food programs announced
For example, details were announced for the Local Food Infrastructure Fund, which will provide $50 million over five years to help the community food security sector, including organizations like Community Food Centres and Good Food Organizations, “improve access to safe, healthy, and culturally diverse food.”
This will be a welcome investment for underfunded organizations to build much-needed infrastructure, like greenhouses and kitchens, and to support the most marginalized communities in Canada to access healthy and sustainable food. As we know from our work supporting Community Food Centres and Good Food Organizations, the kinds of programs this fund will support build community, health and social inclusion for some of the Canadians who need it most.
We’re also pleased to see the investment in a Northern Isolated Community Initiatives Fund of $15 million over five years, which aims to help Northern communities access healthy food. We hope that this fund, in tandem with the $40-million Harvesters Support Grant that will subsidize the high cost of hunting in Northern communities, will start to move the needle on the exorbitant cost of healthy food in the North.
Another announcement we’ll be keeping our eyes on is the creation of a National School Food Program. Canada is one of the only industrialized countries without a national program, and federal leadership is needed to ensure all Canadian kids have access to healthy food at school in order to thrive. The National School Food Program was announced in the 2019 federal budget with no funding attached, though efforts have since begun to consult stakeholders on what this program should look like.
While the programs above were outlined in the 2019 budget, today’s big new announcement was the creation of a Canadian Food Policy Council, which will give nonprofits a voice at the policymaking table alongside industry. For the policy to live up to its slogan, Everyone at the Table, multiple stakeholders, including people with lived experience of food insecurity, must have a voice. Encouragingly, the government has committed to ongoing engagement on the food policy, both through the council and more broadly with Canadians.
Food policy needs targets and measurement
Community Food Centres Canada is pleased Minister Bibeau mentioned the Poverty Reduction Strategy, which will be key to reducing food insecurity that affects four million Canadians. The government has acknowledged that far too many Canadians can’t afford a healthy diet, and a lot of work remains to address the problem.
To this end, the government has announced that the Canadian Food Policy Council will help to set specific and measurable targets on issues such as food insecurity reduction. Targets are important as they commit the government to meeting a goal by a specific time, and, without them, a laudable goal does not necessarily turn into concrete action.
While the government has announced targets for poverty reduction — and met the first target to reduce poverty by 20 per cent by 2020 — food insecurity is a broader issue that will require a cross-departmental approach.
Thirty per cent of food insecure Canadians do not live in poverty, so we’ll need bold policies on poverty reduction, housing, pharmacare, childcare, and food access in Indigenous and Northern communities to fully eliminate food insecurity.
The policy missed an opportunity to mandate provinces and territories to monitor food insecurity rates on an annual basis. The last year for which we have complete national data on food insecurity is 2012. The lack of current data was identified as a problem in the Poverty Reduction Strategy, and we hope to see action to address the issue from the federal government as soon as possible.
In 2012, four million Canadians suffered from food insecurity. This is a serious problem that has lasting impacts on people’s health and lives, and on our health-care system. Current data is critical to adequately address this problem.
Nonetheless, A Food Policy for Canada is an important step that, along with the Poverty Reduction Strategy and other federal government policies, will begin to move us toward the vision of a food system in which all Canadians have access to healthy, sustainable and culturally appropriate diets. As the federal election approaches, Community Food Centres Canada will work with our partners to push for the additional policies and investments that are needed to get us there.