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Consultations begin toward national food policy

Online survey and Ottawa summit will capture Canadians’ ideas about access to food and sustainable food systems

Canadians now have their chance to weigh in on what they think is essential for a nationwide food policy.

Federal Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay announced late last month that national consultations toward developing the complex policy initiative will take place this spring and early summer.

The consultations, which include an online survey, will invite Canadians to share their views around four themes including increasing access to affordable food, improving health and food safety, conservation of soil, water and air, and growing more high-quality food.

A Food Policy for Canada will set a long-term vision for the health, environmental, social, and economic goals related to food, while identifying actions to take in the short term, a federal news release stated.

It would also be the first of its kind for the country.

“Food plays a critical role in the health and well-being of Canadians, while also having a direct impact on our environment, economy, and communities,” MacAulay said in a news release.

“Developing this food policy is an exciting opportunity for Canadians to have their say about how government can help address those opportunities and challenges that exist in our food system.”

The consultations, which will engage both governmental and non-governmental groups, will continue through to July 27 and include a two-day food summit June 22 and 23 in Ottawa.

Multiple groups have called for a shared national vision and strategy to address opportunities and challenges related to food and are welcoming the news.

A national food policy has long been a priority for farm groups and the Canadian Federation of Agriculture is pleased to see government forging ahead on this, said CFA president Ron Bonnett.

Farm leaders saw the need for a widely co-ordinated approach several years ago, and are looking forward to actively participating as the consultation moves forward, Bonnett said.

In 2011 the CFA published Toward a National Food Strategy (NFS) highlighting a series of themes including proposing a longer-term vision for food production and a plan that takes a more holistic approach to promoting consumption of Canadian food and healthy lifestyles while sustaining economic growth and ecosystems.

“Consultations on creating a national policy for food will spark important conversations among Canadians,” Bonnett said in a release.

This week the CFA is also hosting a gathering of diverse stakeholders from civil society, the agri-food industry, indigenous groups, academia, and government for collaborative discussions.

A national food policy is also what groups such as Food Secure Canada have long been asking for. In 2011 it released its own proposal Resetting The Table calling for a much more holistic approach to increasing access to healthier food, reducing waste and creating more sustainable food systems.

“Every Canadian should be able to put healthy, affordable, sustainably grown food on their table,” said its executive director Diana Bronson.

The FSC notes that Canada has ratified the UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, giving government the legal duty to guarantee its citizens the right to adequate food. About four million Canadians have trouble putting food on the table, a problem that’s worse in remote communities.

The Centre for Food in Canada has also weighed in on the matter, producing From Opportunity to Achievement: The Canadian Food Strategy in 2014 noting the key role food consumption and production plays in the economy, health, communities, and the environment. Its strategy also outlines a comprehensive, action-oriented framework for improving the overall food system.

All groups have noted the growing public appetite for more proactive approaches to food that moves society beyond responses to problems and threats.

Sixteen departments and agencies will be involved in the food policy’s development, including Finance Canada and the Privy Council Office.

The consultation will engage multiple organizations including both governmental and non-governmental groups. Comments received during the online consultation will be summarized in a ‘what we heard’ report.

More information and access to the online survey is found at ‘A Food Policy for Canada’ on the Government of Canada website.

About the author

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Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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