New talks planned to develop national food strategy

As the federal government prepares to launch consultations on a new national food policy, industry and citizen groups appear to have beaten them to it.


On June 5, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture plans to bring about 50 representatives together from the food and public health sector, including academics, government representatives, MPs, Indigenous groups, civil society groups, dietitians, food processors, primary producers, input providers, and possibly retailers.


CFA president Ron Bonnett said the goal is to add detail to food policy goals they hold in common.


Those areas of commonality were identified at a March meeting in Guelph convened by Food Secure Canada, Maple Leaf Foods and the Arrell Food Institute at the University of Guelph.


The government policy is expected to cover not only agriculture and food production but also food-related issues to do with health, nutrition, food security and the environment.


Consultation would involve not only feedback from people involved in those sectors but also the general public and consumers.


At the March meeting, there was discussion about the need to develop a national food strategy, a process rather than a policy, a document to manage the diverse interests, Bonnett said. 


There also seemed to be consensus around the table that someone needs to be in charge.


“If nobody’s in charge, it’s likely not going to go somewhere. So (at the June meeting) we’re taking a look at who is going to try and set the direction and how do we ensure that we get the right mix of individuals around the table to make sure it can move ahead.” 


Convincing the government to adopt cross-departmental approaches to dealing with food issues is yet another shared goal. 


Right now, lack of connection between government departments creates challenges for many groups. Bonnett used the example of Agriculture Canada wanting to expand agricultural exports but the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the regulatory system creating roadblocks.


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“We also have to take a look at how do we engage provincial and municipal governments,” he said.


In recent years, national groups have tried to convince the government to establish a food policy, including the CFA, Food Secure Canada, the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute and the Conference Board of Canada.


Diana Bronson, executive director of Food Secure Canada, which represents groups such as the National Farmers Union, the Canada Organic Trade Association, Dietitians of Canada, United Church of Canada and the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, said the decision to hold preliminary discussions independent of government consultations came about because the discussion hadn’t been moving fast enough.


“There is a lot of support for a national food policy,” she said.


Like Bonnett, Bronson noted that breaking down barriers between government departments would likely be one of the benefits of the policy, and a top priority. 


From the development of Canada’s Food Guide and Nutrition North Canada subsidy program to the finalization of the latest agricultural policy framework, the number of food initiatives underway are many and they’re being led by different departments.


Without an overarching framework in place, no integration takes place and government departments and different levels of government work at cross-purposes, she said. 


“Now under Minister (Jane) Philpott there is serious work going on around a healthy eating strategy and reforming Canada’s Food Guide, but if that just goes off in its own direction and never talks to people who are producing the food, then we’re not getting maximum bang for our buck.”


Areas of consensus, however, appear to be fragile and narrow. 


Bonnett expressed concern about policy being influenced too much by social issues that are not necessarily about food production. Each is a component of the whole discussion, he said. 


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Bronson noted that recent enthusiasm about agriculture being identified as a potential growth sector for the country’s economy is taking “the wind out of the sails” of other areas of focus for the food policy such as equity, health and environmental concerns.


“It’s really, really important that that not happen.” 


Even within groups differences of opinion exist. 


Jan Slomp, president of the National Farmers Union, said his organization wants protection of farm income. Slomp said he’s worried that his organization’s priority may fall by the wayside as compromises are made to get the policy through.


Bronson said some form of income guarantee for farmers is important. She also said to expect compromises and fights along the way. 


But much of misunderstanding is lack of communication, she said. Groups need to sit down face-to-face and build relationships. 


“Right now I’m still very hopeful.” Bronson said senior officials from 12 departments including the Prime Minister’s Office have formed a committee chaired by Agriculture Canada. The group has prioritized areas or themes that were presented at a Food Secure Canada meeting in October. These include food security, the environment, sustainable growth of agriculture and food production and health.


She anticipated the government would roll out public consultations soon. 


Patrick Girard, a spokesperson with the agriculture department, said by email in mid-May that broad public consultations “to gather input of Canadians and stakeholders in the development of this policy” would be held this year.


Establishing a national food policy was one of the priorities Prime Minister Justin Trudeau outlined to MacAulay in a 2015 mandate letter. 


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Bonnett noted that the first policy would be unlikely to affect the new agricultural policy framework that will come into effect next year. It will, however, have an impact on future policy frameworks as well as the way governments deal with issues.

  • lifetothefullest

    “National food policy” is statist.
    Instead of more government control, let’s promote freedom of choice.

    • Harold

      If the industry had any concept of the truth and the public had the concept of the truth, the panel would consist of consumer and public oversight groups and industry and MP’s would be the audience members. The bottom line is; if the public will not buy the BS – the public will not buy with their dollar the BS, so any of industry and MP’s sayings is irrelevant. It is an absolute comment from the “blind” to say in context that – “citizen groups appear to have beaten them to it”; are they feigning something? The lack of citizen dollars can destroy any corporation or bring them to their knees and they know this and fear the public’s insight. The lack of students can destroy any University and they know and fear this too. What we have here, is a “University” (panel) in need of “students” (public) to indoctrinate, (damage control) and a “Dean” (government MP) that creates policy favorable to the “university” (industry) and the “students”. (Indoctrinated acceptance) This is the recipe to why things never appear to change, or to improve; because by a conspired design, they were never meant to. It has always been the public who have steered any positive changes and the government and Industry Elite who have derailed it.
      You mentioned freedom of choice; you already have it, and it is fully guaranteed by the Charter, so there is no reason to promote what you/we already have; YOU just need to stand up and evoke it. WE cannot do what WE do not know so therefore YOU are all alone and you say: “let’s promote freedom of choice”. So how did YOU and WE become so powerless? Industry and perhaps government (I say “perhaps” because I don’t believe that they are very well educated- save few) are fully aware of your/we Rights and they are scared to death of it. Why do we have the individual Right to be fully informed? Because it is a fundamental of the Law in all contracts AND the basis of the freedom of choice, and in its failure – is an act of Fraud and any contract of fraud is void. This is why the government in fear ushers the public into their own education systems, and industry in fear sets up their “university” of indoctrination wherein, as any jail system – freedom and choice is never spoken of. Once we have been Institutionalized (jail system) and not Constitution-alized (freedom system/Charter) it’s like leaving any jail system, we are ready to accept any grievous offer given and therefore we burden fraud without our knowledge of its existence. The one’s leaving the “jail inspired systems” offer of their knowledge: “it is government… what can you do” and “it is industry…..I have to eat… what can you do? (notice; what can YOU DO, not what can I DO or “this must be done”) They are both interesting statements coming from the ones who just came out of a higher learning institution. What would they be saying had they not been educated at all; the same then. The travesty is, is that they used our money to gain the statements AND the lack of knowledge. If every Canadian had on their lips and in their hand the 34 Articles of The Canadian Carter of Rights and Freedoms – our current problems would heal themselves and the Legislatures and the House of Commons, and the Courts would become very different places. The Government is the most fearful, and being so, they use propaganda to mask their fear and counter with publicly fed propaganda, that if believed, has us fearing each other. Using their many scams and claims of diversity and such, if believed, divides and fractions us all into meaningless pieces in society whereby creating a myth of government importance. The fact that we don’t trust each other and that the government is the mediator by default is the result of a Government and Elite led SCAM as far back as 1982, and further back. There is not one human among us that does not require many identical things or aspire to many identical things and this unites us all – so how can there be a division or mistrust amongst us unless we have been believing falsehoods and fictional rumors of the many scam-ers ? The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights unites us in power and rids us of these scam artists. When you stand up under the Charter we all do, when like you, it is on our lips and in our hand. Who fears us knowing them? The documents can be easily downloaded and then what would we all be talking about in unison; sports and scores like we do now?