A Food Policy for Canada: Reasons for (Cautious) Optimism

A Food Policy for Canada: Let's Build it TogetherHalfway through its first term, the federal government has begun to develop a national food policy for Canada, including launching online consultations with Canadians and hosting a summit with stakeholders. This was a commitment made within the ministerial mandate letter to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food.

A friend asked me whether I think the national food policy will do any good. The People’s Food Policy Commission began some of this work in the 1970’s, engaging Canadians in identifying food issues and priorities, culminating in a 1980 report “The Land of Milk and Money.” In 2011, Food Secure Canada renewed engagement with Canadians through kitchen table talks to produce “Resetting the Table,” which remains a comprehensive and citizen-informed foundation for national food policy.

This is also not the first national effort to address food security. The 1996 World Food Summit saw the development of Canada’s Action Plan for Food Security (1998); the fifth (and, I believe, final) progress report was in 2008.

What gives me hope?

  • filleting fishThe fact that we’re having these conversations. Five years ago, I would not have imagined a federally led national food policy.
  • Food policy is complex touching on multiple areas, such as economic and trade policy, health, agriculture, fisheries, environment, and social supports, as well as crossing municipal/band council, provincial/territorial, national, and international jurisdictions. The government is recognizing the need comprehensive, cross-cutting, and harmonized approaches.
  • The process of developing a policy and strategy will raise awareness of these issues and help to bring this conversation into our collective conscious.
  • Ecological health and climate change mitigation and adaptation in relation to food production seem to be part of the conversations.
  • Sixteen federal departments and agencies are involved in the development of the policy.
  • There are similar conversations happening within municipalities/councils, provinces/territories, as they explore how to build community food security.
  • The federal government is also undertaking to develop a National Poverty Reduction Strategy, which has the potential to address inadequate incomes as the root of individual and household food insecurity, if it strives to be more than poverty reduction and aims for poverty elimination.

What makes me cautious?

  • National initiatives are subject to political will and can fall out of favour when new governments are formed. Both Australia and the UK undertook similar efforts, but the strategies were not implemented because of a change in government.
  • We often focus on new policy development, but there are often inadequate resources for implementation and monitoring. Regardless of the quality of the proposed national food policy, it will take many years to see real change.
  • There are a number of competing voices and priorities at the table, which will make it difficult to build a common agenda.
  • There is a tension between acting across multiple areas and trying to prioritize. We need to go beyond tweaking the edges and zero-sum scenarios towards holistic change that addresses this complex social issue.
  • We haven’t figured out how to honour Indigenous and First Nation rights for food sovereignty and food as a human right.
  • Fish remains on the fringes of these discussions, despite its importance as a source of basic nutrition for coastal communities in Canada and around the world.
  • There are a number of ongoing related efforts that will need to be coordinated, such as the development of the Next Agricultural Policy Framework and the National Poverty Reduction Strategy.

Our work is only beginning. We need to continue to insist on processes that include a diversity of voices, sharing how policies, or lack thereof, are impacting our communities. We have to remain engaged, working with government and decision-makers to inform effective policy and policy implementation that goes beyond minor changes towards comprehensive change.

Learn more about national food policy conversations and background info.

The online survey is open until July 27, 2017 

Blog Written by: Satya Ramen, Ecology Action Centre, Senior Coordinator, Policy Development & Civic Engagement

Adventures in Local Food is your source for food news in Nova Scotia, from pickles to policy. It is a project organized by the Ecology Action Centre. Learn more about our program

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