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Canada Needs Food Policy

More than 3,500 Canadians have tabled a document calling for a national food policy that emphasizes domestic food systems, more farmers, and initiatives such as school lunch programs.

CalledResetting the Table: A People’s Food Policy for Canada, the document is the first national food policy proposal to emerge from this country’s growing food movement.

The People’s Food Policy Project was spearheaded by Food Secure Canada, and is the culmination of two years of meetings, online discussions and national conferences held by a nationwide network of non-governmental organizations, citizens, food producers and community groups. It was released last week in Ottawa in the final days before the May 2 federal election.

Resetting the Tablewas put together from literally hundreds of position papers submitted from across the country, said chair of Food Secure Canada, Cathleen Kneen. What came from people is not just a restatement of what’s wrong and what’s concerning Canadians about the food system, but their ideas on how to fix it, she said.

It springs from a belief that ordinary Canadians have the right to participate in and reclaim the decision-making power of their food system, she said adding that no one had a federal election in mind when this began two years ago.

“What we wanted to do is come up with a coherent policy proposal which could be brought to government at every level,” she said.

Resetting the Table’skey assertion is that Canada desperately needs to develop a national food policy and cites multiple reasons why it’s needed.

Even as one of the wealthiest countries in the world, about 2.5 million Canadians regularly do not have enough to eat and food bank usage is on the rise. More than one in four Canadians is considered obese, and diet-related illness and poor health is increasingly straining the health-care system. At the same time the number of farmers is on the decline, as is with net farm income. Meanwhi le, food imports are sharply on the rise.

Kneen said those with longer memories remember an earlier initiative in Canada, now dating back more than 30 years, when the Peoples’ Food Commission crisscrossed the country, canvassing Canadians about the emerging problems they saw related to food production and procurement.

Fast-forward three decades andResetting the Tablehas put on paper not only what people see as wrong with the system, but their ideas on how to fix it, Kneen said.

“We said we need to move on from inquiring about what’s wrong because we know what’s wrong,” she said. “What are we going to do about it?”

Resetting the Tablefocuses on the food policies which support local and regional purchasing for institutions and large food retailers.

It also calls for more environmentally friendly farm practices, the creation of policies that help new farmers enter the profession and the enactment of a strong federal poverty elimination and proactive initiative to ensure Canadians can better afford healthy food. The creation of a Children and Food Strategy that would include school meal programs, school gardens and food literacy programs is also proposed. Canada is the only G8 country without a nationally funded school meal program.

Kneen said the main message the document brings is that “if we put our heads together with goodwill, we will come up with solutions.

“It doesn’t have to be this way. We don’t have to have people going hungry. We don’t have to have farmers going out of business. We don’t have to have environmental pollution. There are other ways we can organize things.”

Kneen acknowledged that the document comes out at a time when food issues are galvanizing the public and multiple organizations are coming up with proposals, including the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, which is looking at a national food strategy.

This is getting political parties’ attention too.

“We’re by no means the only people on the playing field,” Kneen said. “Every political party that’s starting to talk about food policy, whatever their stripe. They don’t say the same things by a long shot, but they’re all realizing that something needs to be done.”

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