Known as Canada’s Food University, the University of Guelph will play a significant role in a new national food policy advisory body intended to help ensure a healthier, more prosperous and sustainable food system, including meeting agri-food challenges exposed by the pandemic.
This was announced today by Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, at the first of three dialogues hosted by the AFI this month to provide input to the upcoming United Nations Food Systems Summit.
The new 24-member group of experts in the agri-food sector, academia, non-profit organizations and the public sector will advise the federal minister of agriculture and agri-food on the first-ever Food Policy for Canada, developed in 2019.
A professor in the Department of Geography, Environment and Geomatics, Fraser said his selection as co-chair is “phenomenal validation that the University of Guelph is recognized as Canada’s food university. It’s recognition that we have the depth and breadth of experience across the farm-to-fork continuum and the scientific expertise to speak with authority on complex issues.”
Fraser’s co-chair is Sylvie Cloutier, head of the Conseil de la transformation alimentaire du Québec. Council members were selected from more than 120 applicants from across the country.
“Dr. Fraser brings a tremendous amount of experience to the Food Policy table and we are fortunate to welcome him and Sylvie Cloutier as the council’s co-chairs,” said Bibeau. “I look forward to joining them and the rest of the council at the first meeting. Together we will work to tackle emerging food-related issues that matter to Canadians.”
Fraser was nominated by U of G senior administrators to serve on the new advisory council.
“This is exciting news for Dr. Fraser and for Canada’s food university,” said U of G president Dr. Charlotte Yates. “His leadership on this prestigious advisory council will ensure that U of G plays a key role in continuing to shape our national food policy.”
The CFPAC will advise the federal government on ways to address Canadian food system problems and capitalize on sectoral strengths. Fraser said key issues for the new advisory council will include improving food security and reducing poverty, ensuring access to healthful food, raising Canada’s global profile in agri-food markets and innovation, and reducing the sector’s environmental footprint.
Under its recently introduced food policy, Ottawa will invest about $134 million over the next five years in projects intended to improve access to healthy food, boost Canadian exports, support food security in Northern and Indigenous communities, and reduce food waste.
About one million Canadian households lack access to healthful food even as about two in three adults in this country are overweight or obese, according to the Food Policy for Canada released in 2019. About one-third of food produced in Canada is wasted.
The agri-food sector accounts for about one in eight jobs in Canada. The sector is also a major contributor to rising greenhouse gas emissions and loss of biodiversity, said Fraser.
The idea of a food policy advisory council to bring together organizations with strengths in trade, agriculture, education and other food-related fields was discussed during an earlier AFI gathering of agri-food experts at U of G, he added.
“I believe one of the main ways we realize change in society is by bringing people together to develop shared strategies. It’s a slow, long process of respectful conversations, especially when it’s about something as multifaceted and complicated as food.”
Fraser said the current pandemic has exposed “challenges” in our food system, from weak links in global supply chains, to inequitable access to food, to labour practices. Those COVID-19-related challenges were discussed in a 2020 report prepared by the AFI and the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute.
Fraser said he’s optimistic that the new advisory body will help in addressing these issues.
Referring to new agri-food technologies and rising consumer awareness about the agri-food sector, he said, “It’s all creating a window of opportunity. The University of Guelph and Canada should be global leaders in an exciting area of innovation. The year 2021 could bring a shift to food systems that are more sustainable.”
He said the CFPAC will help to develop Canada’s contribution to this year’s planned United Nations food summit, being held to discuss food production and consumption and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.