Five Big Ideas for a Better Food System

A proposal from Food Secure Canada for the National Food Policy

May 2017

Canadians are concerned with the health and sustainability of the food they eat, and, as more and more people struggle to put good food on the table, our food system has become an issue of increasing priority.

Unhealthy diets claim more lives than any other cause of death; our food system employs more Canadians than any other sector, yet too many are not paid a livable wage, and the food system is responsible for up to 50 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. Fixing our food system is therefore critical to addressing our most urgent health, economic, and environmental problems.

Despite this, Canada currently does not have a national food policy that we need to govern the many aspects of food and how it makes its way to our plates (or is wasted along the way). Instead, we have a patchwork of agricultural policy, health policy, trade policy, environmental policy, social policy, and so on. In order to create a better food system, we need to start thinking more comprehensively about how we govern our food, from farm to fork.

With these Five Big Ideas, we are campaigning to bring citizens’ voices to federal policy makers to ensure A Food Policy for Canada, one of the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food's mandate helps all Canadians eat better.


Our Five Big Ideas:

Realize the human right to food

Canada has ratified the UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which gives our government the legal duty to guarantee its citizens the right to adequate food. Yet four million Canadians, among them 1.15 million children, have trouble putting food on the table. This problem is far worse in northern and remote communities, where, in Nunavut, for example, two-thirds of children are food insecure.

What government can do:

  • Through Canada’s Poverty Reduction Strategy, work with provinces and territories to improve social programs to ensure there is an income floor below which no one can fall so that all Canadians can afford adequate, nutritious food.
  • Overhaul Nutrition North to improve access and affordability of food while strengthening northern regional food systems, including public support for programs enhancing access to traditional and community-grown foods.
  • Ensure that international trade and investment agreements do not undermine public programs that enhance respect for human rights, sustainable livelihoods and/or food sovereignty.

Read more on our briefing note


Champion healthy and sustainable diets

The government has announced a Healthy Eating Strategy, which is a great first step, but more is needed to support healthy food choices. The way Canadians eat affects not only their health but also impacts climate change and the environment. We need to address unhealthy diets to reduce the rapidly growing rates of diet-related disease that threaten to overwhelm our health care system, and we need to shift to diets that are good for our health and our planet.

What government can do:

  • Create a cost-shared Universal Healthy School Food Program to ensure that all school children learn basic food skills and have access to healthy, nutritious meals every day. Work with Indigenous leadership to create a Healthy School Food Program for schools within First Nations reserves.
  • Consider taxes and subsidies to encourage healthier eating (i.e. tax on sugar and artificially sweetened beverages).
  • Create a foundation for strong links between agriculture, sustainability, and health via policy instruments of Health Canada and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

Read more on our briefing note


Support sustainable food systems

Unsustainable farming and fishing practices put a huge strain on our land, waterways, and oceans, threatening the viability of our food-production systems. What’s more, Canadians waste forty per cent of the food we produce, costing us $31 billion yearly. Our current food system is a leading contributor to climate change, and we do not properly recognize the environmental causes of the current food-production and distribution systems - namely water and air pollution, soil contamination, and loss of biodiversity.

What government can do:

  • Initiate a review of food and agricultural policies to ensure that programs and supports are inclusive of a diversity of food and agricultural operations across different scales, production practices and market channels, particularly those that promote sustainable practices.
  • Establish supports and training opportunities for farmers and fishers to transition to more agro-ecology production regimes including significant new support for new entrants and public funding for farmer-led R&D in organics and knowledge transfer.
  • Revise Canada’s Fisheries Act to better protect fish habitats and support sustainable fisheries in coastal communities.

Read more on our briefing note


Make food a part of reconciliation

Food was often used as a tool of oppression and marginalization but has the potential to be a tool for healing and reconciliation. Indigenous food systems are deeply connected to Indigenous economies, cultures, health, and well-being. A national food policy for Canada must acknowledge the history and ongoing legacy of colonialism and prioritize reconciliation and decolonization as key guiding principles of our food system. This requires respect for treaty rights and a commitment to building nation-to-nation relationships with First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples.

What government can do:

  • Work with First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples to ensure they have more sovereignty over the foods they eat and are guaranteed access to traditional land-based foods and fishing and hunting rights.
  • Support Indigenous leadership that is tackling the epidemic of diet-related disease and food insecurity among Indigenous populations.
  • Allocate resources specifically for food programs in both urban and remote, northern Indigenous communities that address the immediate needs of food insecurity while supporting the long-term development of Indigenous food systems, including hunting, trapping, fishing, and access to traditional foods.

Read more on our briefing note


Invite more voices to the table

Canadians - whether eaters, cooks, community groups, producers, workers, or food entrepreneurs - want a say in how their food is produced and in bringing about the necessary changes to our food system. We need to take the discussion out from behind closed doors where industry and government decide what is best for the rest of us and join the conversation. Working across sectors and silos through a comprehensive and open policy approach, Canada can build economically vibrant, health-promoting, environmentally sustainable food system from which everyone can access a nourishing diet.

What government can do:

  • Create a multi-stakeholder governance body (such as a National Food Policy Council) that would bring stakeholders from across the food system to help the government make smart, common-sense decisions about the food we eat.
  • Ensure the governance mechanisms are properly resourced to ensure meaningful participation from stakeholders and overall accountability and implementation.
  • Ensure the governance mechanism has an adequate budget to propose and implement innovative food programming and experimentation that meets the priorities set out in the policy.

The launch of national food policy consultations is welcome and exciting. Canada has everything we need to be a world food-policy leader - natural abundance, universal health care, culinary diversity, dynamic businesses, a vibrant and engaged civil society, and a citizenry that loves talking about and eating good food. Let’s tell the government it is time to eliminate hunger and elevate food as a critical element in our plans for a more sustainable and healthy country.

Read more on our briefing note


Aditional briefing notes and submissions by partners and members:

Eliminating household food insecurity is fundamental to a national food policy, prepared by PROOF

Legal Obligations on the Right to Food, prepared by Nadia Lambek, SJD candidate at University of Toronto Faculty of Law

Food Waste, prepared by Tammara Soma, PhD candidate at University of Toronto, Food Systems Lab

Supporting New Farmers

How a National Food Policy can Strengthen Justice with Migrant Farm Workers in Canada, prepared by Anelyse Weiler, Phd Candidate at University of Toronto.

Engaging Youth in Farming and the Problem of Farm Sucession, prepared by Food Secure Canada's Youth Caucus

Youth, the Changing Nature of Work, and Food Insecurity: Considerations for the Development of the Canadian National Food Policy, prepared by Food Secure Canada's Youth Caucus

Northern Priorities for National Food Policy, Northern Food Network

Feedback on the National Food Policy, Durham Food Policy Council

Organic Agriculture: A Foundation for Food Security in Canada, Canadian Organic Growers and the Organic Federation of Canada

Recommendations by Conscioius Eating Canada for the Proposed Framework for A Food Policy for Canada

Brief on A Food Policy for Canada, National Famers Union