Spurred on by the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, the three main political parties in the 2011 federal election campaign promised a national food strategy.
Three years later, the New Democrats are the first national party to deliver a comprehensive plan to improve food production across the country and ensure all Canadians can afford it.
The party didn’t put a price tag on the cost of implementing the strategy called “Everybody Eats.” But “any that become promises in the next election campaign will be fully costed,” Malcom Allen, the NDP farm critic, said in an interview.
The 13-page document calls for some new farm and food security programs but also a lot of tweaking of existing ones such as Business Risk Management and Growing Forward. Allen described the policy as a “template of aspirations for us to work toward.” It covers agriculture, food safety, rural development, consumer choice and health and income security issues.
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Earlier this year, the Conference Board of Canada set out a national food strategy. It was an economic blueprint that had little input from farm groups. Meanwhile the CFA has also outlined principles for a national food strategy.
Despite the election promises, neither the Conservatives nor the Liberals have shown any appetite for tasking the Commons agriculture committee with developing a food strategy, Allen said. His party chose “to set the bar high and try to attain it.” It would take years and a lot of provincial co-operation to accomplish all the goals.
“It is our hope that this can ignite a dialogue with those who care passionately about these issues, connect to new audiences outside those already engaged, and strengthen our work with business and farming communities.”
The strategy includes traditional NDP chestnuts such as labelling food containing genetically modified ingredients and protecting supply management in the dairy and poultry sectors. But it would also expand the mandate of the Market Access Secretariat created by Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz to cover domestic as well as international markets.
Encourage domestic processing
It would also look for ways to encourage domestic food processors to expand creating more opportunities for farmers and more choice for consumers of both conventional and organic food.
The party would look for a way to require multinational food companies that want to move production to lower-wage countries and still export to Canada to turn their Canadian facilities over to domestic processors, he said. It would also look for ways to better connect growers and processors with consumers in population centres and support the expansion of urban food production.
Allen noted Canada lags behind most OECD countries in terms of a food strategy. “Agriculture and food are major drivers of the Canadian economy, nourishing our population and providing one out of eight jobs. Today’s farmers are modern farmers, and they need to be linked to cutting-edge research and market information.”
Young farmers’ support
Young farmers need help getting established and more public investment is needed in agriculture research, the strategy says. Governments need to ensure agriculture practices are sustainable and protect the environment. It should find ways to cut food waste and encourage farmers to minimize pesticide and fertilizer use.
The NDP would support the continued development of codes of practice for humane livestock treatment and compensate farmers whose operations are impacted by rules to protect wildlife species at risk.
It would also promote “the continued reduction of greenhouse gases across the farming and agri-food sector along with investment in clean energy on farms.” It would also promote the responsible development of biofuels.
Ensuring the protection of the top classes of agricultural land would be a priority as well as preventing domestic and foreign land speculation.
It would also back the development of “food hubs to actively manage the aggregation, distribution and marketing of food products from local and regional producers to satisfy wholesale, retail and institutional demand.”