Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario Commentary
By Marie Versteeg, CFFO Manager of Executive Board & Committees
Last week, the federal government released the What We Heard Report, outlining the results of its nation-wide consultation on a Food Policy for Canada. In 2017, Canadians offered an overwhelming amount of feedback through regional meetings, a national summit, written submissions, and an online survey (completed by 45,000 people). There is no confirmed release date for the final policy.
Issues covered during the consultation period were categorized under four major themes:
· food security (increasing access to affordable, nutritious, and safe food);
· improving health and food safety;
· the environment (conserving our soil, water and air); and
· economic growth (growing more high-quality food).
As you’d expect, the report notes that “input was wide-ranging, broad-based, and not always consistent.” Still, readers of the report will find some interesting takeaways.
The consultation process showed strong public support for vigorous policy on all four major themes. Participants stressed the interconnectedness of these themes, and recommendations included setting up an external advisory body to improve coordination on food policy across government departments and programs.
On the environmental front, feedback suggests strong support for farmers’ stewardship practices. Consultation participants prioritized “increasing education, information-sharing, and innovation to support sustainable practices” and “ensuring agricultural land preservation.”
Soil health and water supply and quality management were also highlighted. Some participants recommended “a national water management system” to oversee research and innovation, incentivization for stewardship practices, and water quality monitoring. They also asked for reduced uses of pesticides, hormones and antibiotics to alleviate pressures on our soil and water systems.
On the economic front, participants urged government to support growth at the local and regional levels. They encouraged policies to support small- and medium-sized operations as well as new entrants and under-represented groups, such as youth, women, and Indigenous peoples.
In fact, if a common thread could be found anywhere within the report, it would be support for local and regional food: this concern cropped up in discussions on food security, health and food safety, the environment, and economic growth. The topic intersected all four major themes.
Interestingly, the concerns of the general public may diverge from those of government in some areas. For example, priorities for online survey participants (71.5% of whom belong to the general public) tended to reflect their needs as consumers, with affordable food prices a top priority(1) and growth of the agrifood industry at the bottom.
Survey respondents “were less concerned with exports, trade, or the Canadian sector’s global reputation.” Nonetheless, the report confirms that the food policy will be influenced by the government’s goal of growing Canada’s ag sector to meet the target of $75B in agri-food exports by 2025, (2) up from $55B in 2015.
Some consultation participants cautiously warned that the federal government’s focus on the economic growth of the sector may be in direct conflict with the environmental aims of the food policy.
The CFFO sees a policy that balances social, environmental, and economic growth as both desirable and possible outcome. But for this goal to be successful, it’s vital that the architects of the Food Policy for Canada heed popular calls to support regional food production, research and innovation, and incentives for sustainable practices.
(1) According to the “What We Heard Report: A Food Policy for Canada,” online “qualitative survey comments focused on increasing access to affordable food (47 per cent) over any of the other themes in A Food Policy for Canada.”
(2) As the “What We Heard Report” notes, this goal is laid out in the Barton Report. See “The Path to Prosperity – Resetting Canada’s Growth Trajectory: Executive Summary,” 2016.