A Food Policy for Canada: Now Is the Time for Action

By Evan Fraser

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Editor’s Note: A version of this article ran in the Toronto Star Jan. 2

The House of Commons Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food published a report last month called A Food Policy for Canada. This report highlights the committee’s recommendations that will ultimately guide initiatives and help establish regulations for food production, processing and consumption.

So although the report doesn’t sound like an exciting pre-holiday read, it is incredibly important for every Canadian.

This isn’t the first time we have tried to create a national food strategy. Numerous industry, farming and civil society players have tried to write food policy in the past. But such attempts have failed to catalyze widespread impact for at least three reasons.

First, non-governmental attempts lacked the backing of the federal government, so there was little capacity for follow-through.

Second, food by its very nature does not fit neatly into governmental structures. Touching agriculture, public health and the environment, food policy must also include mandates such as science, research and technology, trade and international development. Put simply: food policy falls through the cracks.

Prof. Evan Fraser

Third, previous attempts never really achieved legitimacy in the eyes of all non-governmental stakeholders. Initiatives led by civil society struggled to gain industry buy-in; industry-led initiatives were never trusted by civil society.

But this time is different.

Developing a food policy for Canada is mentioned in the mandate letters of both the ministers of Health and Agriculture and Agri-Food. In other words, the Prime Minister considers food policy sufficiently important to have two cabinet ministers devote their energy to this file. At the same time, a coalition of non-governmental players (consisting of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, Food Secure Canada, the McConnell Foundation, Maple Leaf Foods and the Arrell Food Institute at the University of Guelph) has developed a set of recommendations to create a permanent National Food Policy Council.

The National Food Policy Council would be given a mandate to advise all relevant government ministries on food-related policy issues. It would also work to gain the trust and buy-in of relevant non-governmental agencies, organizations and businesses.

Today, momentum exists to create a much-needed food policy for Canada. This is wonderful and long overdue. Now, to keep this momentum and prevent food policy from vanishing as a national priority once again, we need a National Food Policy Council.

Earlier this year, the federal Advisory Council on Economic Growth released its report on how to boost the prosperity of our country. One of its key recommendations was to invest in agriculture and food in order to make Canada the world’s trusted supplier of safe and sustainable food for the twenty-first century.

This is a lofty but achievable ambition. Food intersects with every aspect of our lives, our health and our relationship with the planet. As the human population grows (and the climate warms), feeding the world’s growing population will emerge as one of the defining challenges of the age. Canada is positioned to lead in helping find solutions to this challenge. Through creating a National Food Policy Council, we can benefit at home by ensuring that all our citizens have access to a safe, nutritious and sustainable diet. And we will benefit abroad by playing an ever-more important role in feeding the world.

Evan Fraser is the director of the Arrell Food Institute at the University of Guelph and the holder of the Canada Research Chair in Global Food Security in the Department of Geography.