This week’s guest commentary comes from Joe Dickenson, Director, Ontario Federation of Agriculture
When Canada’s 13 provincial and territorial premiers gathered in Ontario last month to talk about collaborative savings on healthcare, they left an important ingredient off the table – food.
The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) fully supports the premiers’ concern with rising healthcare costs and their push for more affordable pharmaceutical products, but we respectfully propose an additional solution: preventative health care, through safe, affordable healthy food choices. When our political leaders chose to address health care issues at the pharmaceutical level, they chose to treat the symptoms and not the disease. They missed the opportunity to emphasize the recognized role of food in disease prevention.
Food and health go hand in hand. Canadians recognized this fact in a recent poll in which they identified diet as a key factor for good health. And for the last two years, the OFA has worked closely with the Canadian Federation of Agriculture and the entire food chain to create a National Food Strategy – a vision for the future of food in Canada. The National Food Strategy contains nine strategic objectives – and includes the need to educate and encourage our children and consumers to choose foods and healthy eating patterns that promote optimal health.
All Canadians would benefit from learning to make nutritious food choices. And education needs to begin with young adults, equipping them with the tools they need to learn to plan and prepare healthy meals. We need to encourage local food companies to create innovative food products that align with Canada’s Food Guide, and provide food claims with clear, factual information.
Likewise, it is in the interests of all the provinces – and premiers – to ensure consumers always have access to safe, nutritious and affordable food. We must also establish strong collaboration between the food industry and health sector to ensure healthy food choices are available.
To further the food agenda, Ontario’s legislature is expected to vote on a proposed Local Food Act this fall. While the act doesn’t align food and health as explicitly as the National Food Strategy, it would recognize local food production as a priority for Ontario, and make support for local agriculture a matter of provincial policy.
Many Canadian health care issues can be addressed at the source: the food choices we make, three times a day. Ontario farmers are ready to do our part to contribute local smart food choices to a growing customer base. And with the framework of the National Food Strategy, and a meaningful Local Food Act in place, we’ll be empowered by more solid markets that celebrate the health and economic benefits of food that support our local economy.