News and announcements 09/13/2018

In 2015, when Prime Minster Justin Trudeau announced his government's plan to create A Food Policy for Canada, many hoped it would be an opportunity to address some of our most urgent food-system problems.

A year after the close of public consultations on the food policy -- in which Canadians were asked to weigh in on the policy's four areas of focus: food security, health and food safety, environment and economic growth -- the federal government has now released a What We Heard report to share the feedback it received from Canadians.

This report is not a policy document, but rather a reflection of some of the common themes brought up by the more than 45,000 people who shared their opinions online and at in-person consultations. There can be no doubt: Canadians care deeply about our food system. And it seems that for many of us, it's simply not working.

Increasing access to affordable food
The What We Heard report captures the concerns of some respondents that a focus on affordability could undermine all of the other food policy themes. We share those concerns: affordable food is often ultra-processed; high in salt, sugar and saturated fat; and produced in ways that do not support farmers or our environment. Food produced with the environment and health in mind costs more. We strongly believe that we need to focus on making sure incomes and social supports allow all Canadians to participate in a better food economy.

Food insecurity is largely an income issue, and the report recognized the need for solutions that go above and beyond increasing donations to the emergency charitable food sector. Contributors called for income solutions to food insecurity, namely a national basic income program, and stressed that these will have to be delivered through the Poverty Reduction Strategy, released last month. Many also called for right-to-food legislation that would enshrine into law Canada’s obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

 

Improving health and food safety

The report outlines the concerns of many Canadians about food safety and food fraud.

While food safety is an important issue, we believe that reducing diet-related illness must also be a top priority for government. Unhealthy diets are the leading risk factor for death and disability in Canada, causing 50,000 deaths per year.

The report captured respondents' opinion that food should be recognized as an important determinant of health. Strong regulations to encourage healthier eating are key to enacting this belief. The report suggests taxing unhealthy foods to fund health promotion programs. This is a policy we supported in our submission for the 2019 federal budget; one place funds could be directed is towards fruit and vegetable incentive programs like affordable produce markets.


Conserving our soil, water and air

The food system is one of the largest contributors to climate change, responsible for a third of global greenhouse gas emissions. This was the top concern for survey respondents, and the report lays out a variety of solutions to address the issue, including agricultural land preservation, support for ecological farming practices, and reducing food waste. The report acknowledges opposition to the idea that donating food waste can be a solution to food insecurity, but does not leave it off the table entirely. This leaves us with some concerns, as diverting food waste to people living in food insecurity creates a two-tiered food system in which those with means have choice and those without do not. Linking the two issues could undermine any focus on income solutions to food poverty.


Growing more high-quality food

The last area of focus, "growing more high-quality food," is code for increasing agricultural exports. The federal government has a goal to increase food exports from $55 billion to $75 billion by 2025 as a means to grow the economy, and the report shows there is some concern among respondents that this could eclipse all other goals.

Fortunately, it seems the government heard this message loud and clear. Whether or not this will eventually be reflected in federal food policy, the report focuses on domestic agricultural issues like supporting new farmers and local food systems.

 
What's next?

This report offers many solutions to some of our most pressing food issues. If they were all addressed through A Food Policy for Canada, the government would go a long way to ensuring all Canadians have access to healthy, sustainable food. 

The next time we hear from government will be when the food policy is released. We'll see which of the priorities expressed by the more than 45,000 consultation participants finds its way into that document. One thing is certain: the eyes of Canadians are on the federal government, and we'll be looking for meaningful progress on the critical issues raised in this report.