Canada now has a national food policy. What does it mean?

June 18, 2019

“Everyone at the table!” SeedChange reacts to the new National Food Policy.

SeedChange joins hundreds of organizations, networks and associations from all sectors of society to welcome the release of Canada’s brand new National Food Policy. More than 45,000 Canadians made their perspectives known during the national consultations in 2016, online and at public events.

That’s a resounding signal that Canadians not only see the cracks in our current food system, but want to have a say in rebuilding it.

Five years before the 2016 consultations, SeedChange was an important contributor to the Peoples’ Food Policy (Resetting the Table, 2011) developed by a network of groups working on poverty and inequality, local food, child nutrition, ecological agriculture, Indigenous and international food sovereignty, among other issues.

The National Food Policy announcement is a step forward. We are pleased to see that it will fund key areas such as a national school nutrition program, northern and Indigenous food security, and innovation for reducing food losses and waste.

What’s missing?

Transitioning to sustainable food systems

Healthy soils, water and ecosystems are critical to sustaining food systems. This message came through loud and clear during the 2016 consultations as something important to Canadians.

Numerous international panels, from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, show that we are in the midst of a climate emergency, and an alarming decline in biodiversity. Meanwhile, agriculture is responsible for 11 per cent of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions. Globally, our food system is responsible for up to a third of all emissions.

It’s clear we cannot tackle the climate and biodiversity crises unless we transform agriculture and shift the way we produce our food. Furthermore, investing in ecological and biodiverse agriculture has impacts across the Sustainable Development Goals. Transition to sustainable agriculture is not reflected in the National Food Policy announcement, and SeedChange hopes that it will be an important part of future announcements.

A right to food approach

A national food policy must be centred on the right of every human being to nutritious, safe and culturally appropriate food. We believe that this right is best realized by strengthening food sovereignty and local food systems, so that individuals have the means and agency to feed themselves.

Indigenous food sovereignty

As the original inhabitants and stewards of these lands, territories and waters, Indigenous peoples possess knowledge systems and practices for growing, gathering and providing food. Rights, respect and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples are essential components of a national food policy.

Key actors at the table

We welcome the announced Canadian Food Policy Advisory Council, to be composed of many sectors, including civil society and farmers organizations. The mandate and makeup of this council will be critical to ensure that those who grow and provide our food, and those who suffer from food insecurity, remain at the centre of food policy making. This is a chance for Canada to build on inclusive governance mechanisms already established, from food policy councils at the city level, to the Committee for World Food Security at the international level.

Our food matters – around the world

The majority of food grown in Canada is exported. As an organization working internationally, SeedChange is keen to ensure that the global impact of our food policies on climate change, food security, gender equity and human rights is positive. We expect that these considerations will remain strong in the implementation and accountability frameworks of the National Food Policy.

The National Food Policy, although not transformative, is an important first step on the path to forging a viable food system together.