Is Canada’s food policy biting off more than it can chew?
Updated: Aug 12, 2019
Last week, the Government of Canada released “Everyone at the Table”; a food policy for Canada. It has an ambitious agenda covering a range of admirable objectives. There is no doubt that the initiatives under the food policy are worth pursuing. The question becomes whether an overarching food policy that includes these disparate policy objectives can effectively make progress on any of them.
Among the priorities listed are:
Food insecurity/food access;
National school food program; and
Food fraud prevention.
It makes sense to think comprehensively about issues surrounding food when they are explicitly connected. It is more difficult to see an explicit connection between promoting Canadian food domestically or internationally and promoting food security in the North. Both are worth pursuing - but there seems to be little overlap. While that does not preclude addressing them under the same broad mandate, we need to be careful that the appropriate focus is put on individual elements to make progress.
There may also be connections outside of the “food” realm. In Canada, much of our food security is considered to be an income problem. Do we lose an opportunity to deal with the food security issue holistically if we focus on just food? Initiatives like affordable housing may be an important contributor to food security. It may be more effective to focus on the specific issue - food security or any others - rather than creating an arbitrary connection between other issues.
A cynic might suggest that grouping the initiatives allows a government to provide a big number on a theme which sounds better than a number of smaller initiatives. On the other hand, there has been some criticism of the lack of investment - comparing the $4 per capita allocated to the National Policy to the $40 per capita in Quebec’s food policy.
The Policy statement includes the establishment of an Advisory Council. It remains to be seen if the disparate voices, with disparate perspectives and priorities, will be able to move action forward. Once again, issue specific discussions may be more meaningful and productive.
There are those that think this is an excellent initiative. I spoke with Evan Fraser, Director of the Arrell Food Institute who has provided input into the development of the policy.
The priorities articulated within Canada’s food policy are all worth attention. It is not clear that bundling them for the purposes of communication will facilitate greater progress on any of them. It may just produce a large unwieldy initiative. I hope I’m wrong.
Recommended citation format: von Massow, M. “Is Canada’s food policy biting off more than it can chew?”. Food Focus Guelph (37), Department of Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of Guelph, June 24th, 2019.