The Launch of the First ‘Food Policy For Canada - Everyone at the Table’

What you need to know

Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food launched Canada's first-ever food policy in Montreal on Monday 17 June, 2019.

Food Secure Canada, together with its members and allies, has been calling for a national food policy since its foundation in 2001. The announced policy is ground-breaking, not least because it recognises that a systems approach is needed to tackle food-related societal challenges. Two key initiatives which have been at the forefront of our advocacy efforts, a Canadian Food Policy Advisory Council and federal engagement towards a National School Food Program, are included.

The initial funding is very modest when set against the broader ambitions of the policy, and the growing scale of food-related health, environmental and equity challenges faced by Canadians. Realization of success will depend on how the policy is funded, implemented and governed over time. Food Secure Canada, along with our members, partners, and allies - particularly communities most affected by the issues, including Indigenous communities - will continue to engage closely with the evolution of the policy.

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Ground-breaking Food Policy for Canada - Everyone at the Table

With the launch of Canada’s first ever food policy, the food movement has a lot to celebrate. A Food Policy for Canada is ground-breaking, not least because it recognises that a systems approach is needed to tackle food-related societal challenges. It provides the rationale and the beginning of a framework for cross-governmental action towards achieving measurable long-term results. Priority outcomes are defined for community resilience, connections among food actors, health, sustainability, self-determined Indigenous food systems and inclusive economic growth, underpinned by important overarching principles.

Food Secure Canada, its members, and allies, worked over many years to co-create approaches and policies which are now reflected in government policy. Notably, the food policy reflects two key initiatives which have been at the forefront of our advocacy efforts. Food Secure Canada co-led a process with civil society, academics and food industry actors to develop a consensus proposal calling for multi-stakeholder food policy governance. This proposal appears to have played an important role in the commitment of the federal government to create a Canadian Food Policy Advisory Council, which will result in many more voices at the table to guide the evolution, implementation and monitoring of the food policy. Additionally, strategic coalition building and campaigning by Coalition in Healthy School Food and others has led to a breakthrough on school food, with the federal government engaging with provinces, territories and non-profit groups towards the creation of a National School Food Program. Due to the collective vision and scope of the elements outlined above, this policy has the potential to be transformative.

However, the initial funding of $134.4 million allocated for short-term actions in 2019-2024 is extremely modest when set against the broader ambitions of the policy, and the growing scale of food-related health, environmental and equity challenges faced by Canadians. The unacceptable reality of food insecurity, experienced by four million people in Canada, and disproportionately by Indigenous, racialized and marginalized communities, is not confronted head-on, despite an important intended alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals commitment to ending hunger by 2030. Support for micro, small and medium farmers and food businesses - the core of international and Canadian food systems - are not explicitly identified for recognition or support in the policy. It is also unclear how the new food policy will mesh with current government priorities articulated elsewhere which overwhelmingly support the current industrial food system. The risk remains that export-led agri-food growth targets will continue to overshadow the food policy environment in Canada at the expense of critical issues such as addressing food insecurity, support for climate resilient ecological agriculture and other sustainable livelihoods, as well as the health impacts of our current industrial food system. These and other omissions underline the need for a more coherent, robust and adequately funded approach to be developed.

Below, find more detail on how the policy is structured, what is included, and what is missing.


Roll-out of the Policy

On June 21, 2019, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada released the detailed framework of a Food Policy for Canada, three months after financial commitments were announced in the federal budget, and a few days after the public launch event held by Minister Bibeau in Montréal. More details of the funding, advisory, and reporting mechanisms will be rolled out in the coming months. This slow release approach unfortunately masks some of the ambition and scope of the policy, which is more evident in the full text, and to a significant extent reflects food movement recommendations as well as insights gathered through the 2017 public consultations, as collected in the What We Heard Report.

Elements included in a Food Policy for Canada:

  • Context (using a systems approach to tackle food-related societal challenges)
  • Vision statement
  • Priority outcomes (six long- term interconnected results, against which to measure progress)
  • Foundational elements (Canadian Food Policy Advisory Council and a cross-government reporting framework)
  • Action areas 2019 - 2024 (five new funds within four areas of action)
  • Principles (six principles guiding the approach)
  • Targets (specific and measurable, input from the Advisory Council)
  • Existing commitments (meeting the SDGs and goals set by the Agri-Food Economic Strategy Table)


What is included

A systems approach

The policy explicitly recognises the interdependence of social, health, environmental and economic components of the food system, and builds a foundation for joined-up policy-making. In addition to the actions envisaged in the policy itself, it also acknowledges important linkages between desired food system outcomes and income support programs, climate policy, and agri-food innovation. In messaging around the launch, the Healthy Eating Strategy and the Poverty Reduction Strategy were highlighted. In principle, this opens the door to a wide scope for cross-governmental mechanisms for accountability and reporting, as mentioned in the policy. Indeed, the policy itself states that it is intended to be “evergreen and adaptive … a platform that can be built upon over time … across all orders of Government and with a broad range of organisations”.

A system view that breaks down silos has been at the heart of Food Secure Canada’s analysis and policy proposals since our founding, and we will continue to hold the government accountable to this approach.


Six priority outcomes

    Priority Outcomes: Achieving the Vision

    • Vibrant communities: Improved community capacity and resilience to food-related challenges.
    • Increased connections within food systems: Increased governance spaces and partnerships that connect multiple sectors and actors across the food system.
    • Improved food-related health outcomes: Improved health status of Canadians related to food consumption and reduced burden of diet-related disease, particularly among groups at higher risk of food insecurity.
    • Strong Indigenous food systems: To be co-developed in partnership with Indigenous communities and organizations.
    • Sustainable food practices: Improvements in the state of the Canadian environment through the use of practices along the food value chain that reduce environmental impact and that improve the climate resilience of the Canadian food system.
    • Inclusive economic growth: Improved access to opportunities in the agriculture and food sector for all Canadians within a diversified, economically viable, and sustainable food system.

    Six outcomes are defined in the Policy against which progress will be monitored. In May 2017, Food Secure Canada developed Five Big Ideas for a Better Food System several of which are well-reflected in the policy’s list of outcomes. Absent from the government’s priorities is the Right to Food, see below for more comment on this.

    The language of the outcome for Indigenous food systems is robust in so far as it recognises "Indigenous food self-determination," and commits to "support strong and prosperous First Nations, Inuit and Metis food systems - as defined by communities themselves." A commitment to reconciliation is included here and in the longer “Reconciliation” principle. However, food sovereignty, decolonization and guaranteed access to land - all essential elements of ‘Indigenous food self-determination’ - are not recognised. Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), and the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) conducted self-led engagement sessions as part of the 2017 consultations. The full reports from ITK and NWAC are linked here.


    Canadian Food Policy Advisory Council

    The policy puts a multi-stakeholder Advisory Council front and centre, which is coherent with its overall, integrated policy-making approach.The selection, balance and mandate of the Council will be critical to its eventual impact. In order to truly enable a robust, coherent and collective voices at the policy making table, resources for civil society participation will be a key criterion for success. Food Secure Canada co-leads a multi-stakeholder group that developed a consensus proposal, which will continue to work together to provide input into the Advisory Council process.

    Composition and role of the Canadian Food Policy Advisory Council

    • The Council will be “individuals with experience and knowledge of food system issues, with backgrounds in the food and agriculture industry, members of academia and civil society, as well as members of Indigenous organisations and communities.”
    • Its role is to support the implementation and evolution of the policy, build consensus and trust among food system stakeholders, provide input on the specific and measurable targets, and contribute to evidence-based decision making in order to reach the policy’s outcomes.


    Announced action areas (2019-2024)

    The funded action areas already announced in the 2019 federal budget include the Local Food Infrastructure Fund, the Northern Isolated Community Initiatives Fund, and financing for a Food Waste Reduction Challenge. As noted above, these commitments are very modest when set against needs; only $15 million is earmarked for the Northern Fund despite research such as the Paying for Nutrition report, which indicates that despite the Nutrition North subsidy, food in northern communities remains prohibitively expensive. For the Local Food Infrastructure Fund, some details are already available, and a consultation is underway. As noted above, this initial financing of $134.4 million is currently incommensurate with the scale of the challenge that the Policy itself lays out, making a successful transformation towards the ambitious vision unlikely without significant additional investments.

    It is also important to note that two commitments announced in the 2019 budget are unfunded: the National School Food Program and the immigration pilot project for full-time, non-seasonal agricultural workers with a pathway to permanent residency.

    While no further details of the immigration pilot project have been given, later in June a separate consultation on allowing foreign workers in the low-wage and primary agriculture streams to move between jobs in the same sector was announced. During the development of the food policy, Food Secure Canada (informed by trade unions, migrant workers and their allies), proposed that migrant workers have equal access to social benefit programs and protections under provincial employment standards, livable wages and pathways to permanent status. Many other issues regarding labour and workers in the food system are not addressed as noted below.

    Despite the lack of committed funding, the recognition of a federal role in delivering healthy school food for Canadian children, together with Provinces and Territories and not-for-profits, is a huge breakthrough.



    Principles: Guiding the approach

    • Inclusion and Diversity: All people living in Canada are able to be part of an ongoing dialogue on food issues. Decisions are made after gathering and considering diverse interests and perspectives.
    • Reconciliation: First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities in Canada have distinct food systems that have been nurtured and developed over many generations. Reconciliation begins by acknowledging how historic Government policies have disrupted these food systems.
    • Collaboration: Improved integration across food-related policies and programs, as well as across the Canadian food system.
    • Innovation: A food system that encourages a broad approach to innovation and is adaptable as priorities shift.
    • Sustainability: A food system that supports social, cultural, environmental, and economic sustainability.
    • Evidence and Accountability Food-related policies and programs are evidence-based, transparent, accountable, and results oriented.

    Six principles will guide action on food-related issues. If adhered to, these principles would be paradigm-changing. For example, the principle of sustainability is incompatible with the dominant industrial agricultural system. The definition of sustainability in the policy encompasses generational equity and “the adoption of practices and technologies that contribute to clean air and water, soil health, biodiversity, sustainable use of resources (e.g., greenhouse gas emissions, energy, farm inputs, and water) and climate change mitigation and adaptation.” However, the policy currently includes no programs or resources to materialize this critical principle.

    On the topic of solidarity with Idigenous peoples, a distinctions-based approach is affirmed, Indigenous food self-determination is supported, and both looking (seven) generations ahead and two-eyed seeing that considers Indigenous knowledge and practice are endorsed. As mentioned above, decolonization, sovereignty and land - essential to supporting genuine Indigenous food self-determination - are not included.

    Social innovation is recognised, which was another policy ask from Food Secure Canada over the years, recognising that social innovators are working at the community level to transform their food systems.


    Targets and existing commitments

    Specific and measurable targets for each outcome will be developed with input from the Canadian Food Policy Advisory Council. Mention is made of eventual sub-targets including, critically, “reduction in the number of food insecure households in Canada.” Targets will align with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which include eradicating hunger by 2030. This is a highly significant announcement. Zero hunger in Canada is long overdue. To meet these targets, it will be necessary to rapidly see evidence of a concrete plan, with measurable results and a clear timeline to 2030.

    UN Sustainable Development Goals

    • SDG 2 (Zero Hunger), Target 2.1: By 2030, end hunger and ensure access by all people, in particular the poor and people in vulnerable situations, including infants, to safe, nutritious and sufficient food all year round.
    • SDG 3 (Good Health and Well-Being), Target 3.4: By 2030, reduce by one third premature mortality from non-communicable diseases through prevention and treatment and promote mental health and well-being.
    • SDG 12 (Responsible Production and Consumption), Target 12.3: By 2030, halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses.
    • SDG 13 (Climate Action), Target 13.3: Improve education, awareness-raising and human and institutional capacity on climate change mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction and early warning.

      A potential for significant policy incoherence is raised in the very last line of the document: “federal actions towards achieving the Food Policy will also help meet existing commitments, such as goals set by the Agri-Food Economic Strategy Table”, including the key goal of reaching $85 billion in agri-food exports by 2025. The issue of compatibility with the outcomes and principles of the food policy, for instance with regard to sustainability as discussed above, is left hanging. Incentivising the current industrial agricultural model to pursue an aggressive export growth model is at odds with the vision and principles of this food policy.


      What is not included

      Right to food

      Food Secure Canada is disappointed that the right to food is not embedded in the Food Policy for Canada. While SDG 2 is unequivocal about ending hunger (globally by 2030), a rights-based approach is both consistent with Canada’s international treaty commitments, and offers a framework for comprehensively tackling food insecurity that is rooted in justice.

      There are references to food security scattered through the Policy yet they are not pulled together as a specific priority outcome. If the food policy has cross-government accountability and measurement mechanisms that encompass income support and anti-poverty actions, there is a clear need for a more robust and coherent approach. CFCC’s blog post includes useful analysis of missing targets and measurements on food insecurity.


      Food and Agricultural Workers, including Migrants

      While messaging from AAFC opens with the fact that 1 in 8 jobs across the country are in the food sector, the Policy hardly addresses labour issues. A pilot project towards permanent residency for immigrant farm workers was included in the Budget announcement, but in fact will not meet the needs of many agricultural farm workers.


      Other issues

      Fishing and fishers are not mentioned. Issues with important connections to climate resilience, public trust, health and sustainability, like GMO labelling and pesticide use are also not included. There is no mention of Canada’s extra-territorial obligations with regard to the right to food, or aligning international development and trade policy with the vision, principles or priority outcomes of Food Policy for Canada. In the analysis and commentary below by Food Secure Canada members and others, important attention is drawn to these and other concerns.


      What is next

      The food policy has the vision, the scope, and the mechanisms of cross-governmental measurement and accountability, to make a real difference. The realization of success will depend on how the policy is funded, implemented and governed over time. Food Secure Canada, along with our members, partners, and allies, particularly communities most affected by the issues, including Indigenous communities - will continue to engage closely with the evolution of the Policy. If pursued energetically and at scale, with gaps addressed and funding to match the vision, this first food policy for Canada could be paradigm-changing. Food Secure Canada will continue to actively advocate for a more healthy, just and sustainable food system reflected at the food policy table.

      List of articles and analyses by members, allies and others:

      • Ecology Action Centre statement on new details about the Food Policy for Canada
      • Analysis by USC about what’s missing, including transitioning to sustainable food systems
      • National Farmers Union media release National Food Policy must be seen as a base for further action
      • News article by Ann Hui, National Food Reporter, The Globe and Mail
      • Community Food Centres Canada blog about food insecurity and the new policy
      • Maple Leaf Centre for Action on Food Security press release applauds Food Policy for Canada
      • Evan Fraser, Director of the Arrell Food Institute, Canada’s new food policy means everyone’s at the table, in The Conversation
      • York University’s Rod Macrae comments on: Two pieces added to national food policy: many parts still missing
      • UFCW welcomes the Food Policy
      • Opinion in The Star on including migrant workers in the food policy by Anelyse Weiler, Janet McLaughlin and Donald Cole (from 2017)