With a dose of government co-operation, Canada’s fruit and vegetable growers believe they can help cure the country’s health-care spending epidemic.
Horticulture for Health, or Hort4Health as it likes to bill itself, is a working group of farmers, retailers, food processors and input suppliers that sprouted out of Agriculture Canada’s horticulture value chain roundtable.
The Canada Food Guide has recommended between five and 10 servings of fruit and vegetables daily for decades.
But it remains a message that needs repeating. “An active lifestyle and a diversified diet rich in fruits and vegetables is important to keep Canadians healthy and manage our health-care costs,” says Alison Robertson, chair of Horth4Health.
“In Canada, we’re very lucky that we can grow a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. However, all Canadians need to have access to the great produce we’re growing and that’s why we’re advocating for industry and government co-ordination and collaboration on this issue.”
The group wants provincial and federal ministries to work more collaboratively with each other and with farmers and non-governmental organizations active in the food and nutrition field.
Robertson says many individual or localized nutrition efforts currently exist, but there is no national collaborative initiative in place. Increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables may reduce the risk of some types of chronic diseases, promote healthier body weights and help improve the well-being of Canadians, she notes.
“Healthy eating is an issue that affects all Canadians, whether in rural, urban or remote communities,” she continues. “With a collective approach, we can do a better job of encouraging Canadians to pursue healthier lifestyles through active living and boosting their consumption of fruits and vegetables.”
A campaign to convince Canadians to improve their diets can take inspiration from recycling programs, she added. “It gained widespread adoption through the children and what they were being taught at school about recycling. It has been proven over and over that it can be done.
“If we can effectively change behaviour and encourage healthy eating and active living… and as an industry horticulture has the knowledge, products, networks, and infrastructure to do that, there will be huge wins for everyone — for society, for government, and for producers,” she added.
There are wins for horticulture because there is an immediate economic development effect and there is long-term market creation, she said. Meanwhile, the education and health-care sectors benefit as well.
“We are all aware that this is a time of financial restraint,” she noted. “But we have to stop thinking that what Hort4Health is suggesting is an expense. It’s an investment in our collective Canadian future. What we’re proposing will provide long-term cost savings to various federal and provincial ministries, boost health and learning, and help our country’s growers prosper through domestic market development.”
What Canada needs is an active living and healthy eating initiative with the majority of product being supplied by Canadian producers, she pointed out. “We’re asking that different ministries work with us and support us in our efforts. This is not a one ministry problem, solution, or budget item.”
She urged MPs to support the campaign and a proposal for “an annual national workshop that brings together industry, NGOs, government staff, groups like the Canadian Child & Youth Nutrition Program Network. We need to get the doers together so that we can move forward together by sharing knowledge and resources.
“Different ministries don’t know what each other are doing, different programs are unaware of each other and as industry we don’t know all the efforts that are happening.”