Canadians don’t know enough about their food, where it comes from, how it gets to them and what to do with it, the House of Commons agriculture committee heard earlier this month as it began its study of a national food policy.
Education is a key element in a future policy, several witnesses said.
“Consumers need to know what their choices are, what they’re consuming, the nutritional value of their food, for example,” noted Liberal committee member Pierre Breton.
Jean-Charles Le Vallee, associate director of Food Horizons Canada within the Conference Board of Canada, said nutritional literacy is low, particularly for vulnerable groups.
He said people get their information from television shows and few have read the Canadian food guide.
Food is a huge determinant of health, he said, and health is the largest budget line for governments so there is a vested interest in keeping people healthy.
There are environmental, transportation and other aspects to the policy.
“When we compared Canada and the world on food loss and food waste we are among the most wasteful societies on the planet,” Le Vallee said. “We’re last.”
Food loss is defined as before purchase and food waste is after purchase.
He said consumers are responsible for half of the food waste.
Dale Adolphe, interim executive director at Soy Canada, said education has to be a big component of the policy. Along with food waste in the home, food poisoning occurs there most often, he said, and that is an educational opportunity.
“The last part is basic lack of understanding of modern-day agriculture,” he added.
He grew up on a farm and his children visited that farm but his grandchildren might never get to a farm, he said.
“In four generations, you have a total disconnect with primary agriculture and that disconnect can result in urban myths,” he said. “That is not where we want to go.”
Canadian Federation of Agriculture farm policy director Scott Ross also said education has to be a focal point.
“I think one of the benefits of increasing awareness of the sector is pointing to a lot of the opportunities that do exist for careers in this sector.”
The labour shortage is projected to be 114,000 workers by 2025.
Ross also said that the food policy must bring together all governments, departments and stakeholders.
“This is critical,” he told the committee. “We continue to see misalignment between policy initiatives with the recent agri-food growth targets, the most recent example where subsequent initiatives like the current suite of proposed tax reforms of proposed front-of-package warnings on food would impose new costs and uncertainty that would seemingly undermine the industry’s capacity to grow.”