Policy report a call for action for industry and government

Report says the agriculture sector must create wealth but also protect the environment and increase food security

TORONTO — An agricultural conference in Toronto last month that brought together stakeholders from across the agri-food value chain identified challenges facing the industry.

Evan Fraser, director of the University of Guelph’s Arrell Food Institute, said the Arrell Food Summit was designed to generate positive discussions among all agri-food industry players.

“At the same time, acknowledging that there are some serious problems that we collectively and collaboratively need to work on.”

That list of problems includes, among other things, the food sector’s contribution to climate change and an unequal food system allowing food insecurity among about 10 percent of the population.

“Is there an end goal to the grand project of creating a safer, more sustainable, more nutritious, more profitable food system for Canada? Yeah, no, that’s a journey,” says Fraser. “That’s not a goal. We will always be working towards that. And I see conversations, like the one we’re having (here), as an important part of the calendar in moving on that journey together.”

The journey took a step forward at the summit with the release of the Canada2020-led Food Brand Project’s final report. The report came after 18 months of consultations with 600 sector players and an Ottawa-based policy summit in November.

It proposed a new “compact” based on explicit accountabilities for the agri-food sector, all levels of government and adjacent sector.

“Food issues are too complex and the opportunity for success is too great to do otherwise,” reads the report. “For many, decoupling economics from social and environmental performance is no longer possible or desirable. Validating win-win outcomes is becoming a priority.”

The report concluded Canada’s marketplace is “signalling to all that ensuring confidence in Canada’s food supply carries new obligations” and that, in return, government must be more strategic about creating a super sector capable of generating more jobs and wealth in Canada to better address environmental issues and increase food security.

Three elements were identified as ways to enable that to happen.

The report called on people within the industry to move out of their own silos and into more systems-thinking approaches — meaning association boards should diversify to include more Indigenous peoples, civil society and social scientists. The paper also encourages processor and retailer boards to include more producers.

It argued for the development of metrics to leverage the value gained from having a sustainable value chain and for government to ensure more predictable policy.

Canada2020 senior fellow David McInnes wants to step back and see what the reactions are to the report, but he said there is no appetite to see the report collect dust.

“The ideas that we expressed in this work should be a pillar of the next policy agenda,” he said.

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