The NDP recently published their Canadian food strategy in the document Everybody Eats. This comes several months after the Conference Board of Canada published their own version of a food strategy, which had a marked bias towards industry and only peripheral concern for health, food security, and the environment. Though Everybody Eats is only 13 pages to the Conference Board’s 60, it manages to provide a much clearer and more balanced strategy for addressing food issues in Canada.
The document is divided into four sections: sustainable agriculture; support for local agriculture; agricultural businesses to drive the national economy; and safety, transparency and healthy choices. It is vastly different from the Conference Board’s strategy. For one, environmental concerns are front and centre, as is the promotion of local agriculture. They’ve also spent considerable space on supports for farmers and easing the way for new farmers entering the industry. Most importantly, they’ve given concrete examples of how some of their suggestions can be achieved through funding and legislation at all levels of government.
Sustainable agriculture – in every sense of the word
Section one gives due focus to farmers and those working in the agricultural sector. It suggests re-localizing food processing and value-added businesses as a way to invigorate rural economies. It also recognizes the staggering input costs that farmers face and aims to promote sustainable practices that would reduce those costs. This would include protecting farmers’ rights to save and condition seeds – a point that is in direct opposition to the proposed Agricultural Growth Act.
The section also includes better regulatory controls of genetically modified foods that take into consideration economic costs and benefits for everyone, protection for supply-managed sectors and regulations to ensure fair treatment of migrant workers, including an EI framework and a path to citizenship.
It spends a great deal of space on environmental concerns, including protection of watersheds, animal welfare, protection of farmland and promotion of clean energy on farms. In fact, the environment is taken into consideration throughout the document, even in sections that are not environment-specific. For example, in section three, which is more business and market focused than the rest of the document, it suggests funding public research for more environmentally sustainable farming methods along with research for drought-resistant crops and improving health.
Section two is dedicated entirely to local food and supports for local food, unlike the passing reference it gets from the Conference Board. It gives concrete suggestions for promoting local food such as increased support for Community Supported Agriculture and reduction of barriers to farm-gate transactions. That latter would be particularly beneficial to small farmers who often don’t have the means or capacity to meet industry standards developed with large-scale producers in mind.
Small abattoirs, for instance, often can’t meet the equipment standards that large meat packing plants can. Reducing those barriers by altering the standards, or having different standards for different scales of production, would make it much easier for small famers to compete in the market. Given that organic farmers and those selling pastured meats are more likely to be small, this would be a huge step for more sustainable agriculture.
Encouraging healthy habits
As far as health, access and food literacy are concerned, the NDP suggest implementing a ban on food advertising to children, establishing a pan-Canadian Student Nutrition Program and working with provinces and territories to ensure all children by age sixteen can produce at least six nutritious meals on their own. All of these suggestions have also been made by organizations, such as FoodShare Toronto, that promote nutrition and food literacy in schools and would be a huge step towards promoting health among children. Since food habits established in childhood often carry over into adulthood, the implications would be far-reaching.
Many of the suggestions aim to place more control back in the hands of farmers and consumers.
Overall the strategy is sound and the suggestions for improving Canada’s food system would benefit everyone, including those with economic concerns. Many of the suggestions aim to place more control back in the hands of farmers and consumers for a much more democratic food system than the one we currently have.
The strategy is a truly integrated one with each section touching on health, the environment, social justice and the economy is some way or another. It is clear when reading Everybody Eats that the NDP understands the positive effects that would trickle down from implementing more sustainable and local agricultural practices to benefit farmers, consumers and the planet.
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