Arrell Food Institute Summit and National Food Strategy

The Arrell Food Institute at the University of Guelph is holding its Inaugural Arrell Food Summit on May 22-23 in Guelph and May 24 in Toronto. The conference includes a panel discussion on the collaboration among industry (e.g. producers and processors), civil society, academics and foundations in support of a National Food Strategy. Panellists are Rory McAlpine (Maple Leaf Foods), Diana Bronson (Food Secure Canada) and Tom Rosser (Agriculture and Agrifood Canada).

Government Response to Standing Committee’s Report “A Food Policy for Canada”

The House of Commons Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food today (April 4)  released Minister MacAulay’s response to its report of December 11, 2017, “A Food Policy for Canada.”

The Government response is in many ways a “what we heard” report from the Government’s own consultations on a National Food Policy held in 2017. Without exception, the Government supports, either outright or in principle, all 21 of the Standing Committee’s recommendations.

The detailed response provides a very extensive catalogue — sort of a whole-of-government inventory — of the Federal Government’s initiatives, across all relevant  Ministerial portfolios, intended to meet economic, social, health and environmental goals pertaining to agriculture and food, including food security and competitiveness along the food supply chain.

The covering letter from MacAulay provides a clear indication of the scope and depth of the National Food Policy:

“A Food Policy for Canada will set a long-term vision for the social, health, environmental and economic goals related to food, while identifying actions Canada can take in the short-term. It will address issues related to the production, processing, distribution and consumption of food. By working together and taking into account the many actors involved in Canada’s food system, including farmers, processors, retailers, consumers, academia, non-governmental organizations, and all orders of government, we will create a food policy that helps grow the Canadian economy, improve Canadians’ access to nutritions and safe food, improve health and food safety, and protect our environment.”

The letter and response, available on the House of Commons web-site, can be found here.

Workshop toward a National Food Policy and Council

The challenge for any effective National Food Policy is to address both the (a) market-based requirements for a prosperous (e.g. profitable, competitive) food system and (b) the externalities or consequence of commercial activity that affects other parties without being reflected in the cost of the goods or services.  To help meet this challenge food system stakeholders, with both an interest in food security and competitiveness, are meeting in Ottawa, March 23, for a roundtable discussion to review proposals for a National Food Policy Council. It has been proposed that such a Council would have representation from public, private and civil society actors.

Background documents that will help to inform this discussion are:

The roundtable panel is being live-streamed and includes:

  • Larry McDermott, member of Shabot Obaadjiwan First Nation, Executive Director of Plenty Canada, and former
    Ontario Human Rights Commissioner;
  • Pat Mooney, founder of ETC group and winner of the Right Livelihood Award (the “Alternative Nobel Prize”) from the Swedish Parliament;
  • Lauren Baker, formerly with Toronto Food Policy Council;
  • Ted Bilyea, Past Chair and Special Advisor to the Board of Directors of the Canadian Agri-Food
    Policy Institute;
  • Dr. Catherine Mah, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Health at Dalhousie University.

The event hosts are Diana Bronson, Executive Director of Food Secure Canada, and Peter Andrée, Associate Professor and Associate Chair in Political Science at Carleton University

The sponsors of this discussion are Community First: Impacts of Community Engagement (CFICE), Food Secure Canada, Faculty of Public Affairs (Carleton University), and Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC)

This discussion is open to the public. A livestream webinar can be accessed  at: . For those who can attend in person the meeting is being held in Room 4007, Faculty of Social Sciences Building (4th floor),120 University Private at the University of Ottawa. 

Food Security: Many Teams – Common Goal

A commitment to food security by the diversity of players in the agrifood economy will significantly help in the positive evolution of a national food policy. So it is promising that a symposium of influential leaders in food security matters is being held on March 28 in Toronto under the auspices of Feed Opportunity – Maple Leaf Centre for Action on Food Security. Food Secure Canada, the Arrell Food Institute at the University of Guelph, and the McConnell Foundation — all strong proponent of a national food policy and council — are some of the many institutions presenting.

The agenda can be found here.

Participants include, among others, representatives of the food value chain from “field to fork”, federal and provincial governments, universities and “think tanks,” and civil society including food banks/centres and northern and indigenous stakeholders.

Base on the agenda, “scaling up” is one of the themes of the symposium, especially with respect to innovative initiatives within civil society. Within the corporate private sector this might be referred to as “investing in economies of scale” or “competitiveness.”  At this symposium, participants can share their perspectives on their various challenges and opportunities for scaling up for the greatest social impact  Under review will be current and future policies and actions of civil society, the corporate private sector, and government toward food security.



McConnell Foundation and National Food Policy – Market-Based Instruments

A window of opportunity exists for public, private and civil society stakeholders to agree on a National Food Policy and for the agreed upon NFP to guide stakeholder decsion-making now and in the longer-term. Agreement among stakeholders is dependent upon finding a balance between (a) solely “lassez-faire” or “pure market” instruments for agrifood system solutions to pressing 21st century economic, social, and environmental challenges and (b) purely collective or communitarian instruments. In other words, corporate shareholders and civil society players must respect the priorities of one another (for example, self-interested market competitiveness and broader community social welfare) as well as find common ground on shared challenges and collaborative solutions.

The McConnel Foundation’s Food Systems Initiative providing support of market-based interventions by community groups and its partnership with both civil society organizations such as Food Secure Canada and businesses such as Maple Leaf Foods is an example of leadership in finding and maintaining this balance — a balance of perspectives, of interests, and instruments for change. Such leadership is a welcome contribution to making an effective and long-lasting NFP possible.

“Big Business” and Organic

It should come as no surprise to those discerning what should be the appropriate depth and breadth of a NFP (or of a public-private sector NFP Council) that the large agri-food companies have much to contribute to “triple bottom line” agri-food sector outcomes. One example, within the fields of organic production and their value-added products, is found in General Mills’ recent investment in primary organic production in the US.

A press release from General Mills of March 6, 2018, announced the company’s strategic sourcing agreement with Gunsmoke Farms LLC  (owned by TPG, a private global investment company) to convert 34,000 acres of conventional farmland to certified organic acreage by 2020. Midwestern BioAg is in a partnership with General Mills to develop the crop rotation and soil-building program needed for such a large farm to go organic. One consequence: Gunsmoke Farms must spend three years preparing the acres, without growing a cash crop, and nurture the soil to to meet USDA organic production standards (e.g. forgo application of fertilizers made from petroleum-based products and, instead, fertilize through the use of USDA approved organic sources such as mulched cover crops and certain quality of animal manure; regenerative soil management practices such as no till, crop rotation and cover cropping.) In addition to regenerating arable land, another possible societal benefit is the potential to sequester carbon.

This investment can be construed as part of General Mills’ effort to significantly increase the organic acreage from which it sources its ingredients by 2019. In 2016 it made a similar sourcing agreement with Organic Valley, the largest organic cooperative in the U.S. One goal of that agreement: to help dairy farms make the investment required to convert to organic dairy production.

Often the discussion around a national food policy can devolve into a fundamental debate between the radical propositions of agro-ecological fundamentalism and equally “siloed” incrementalism of “big and global  business.” Investment decisions such as those identified above suggest that a nation’s commitment to food security and business competitiveness (among other societal goals) are not mutually exclusive.



Safe Food for Canada Regulations

A National Food Policy/Strategy will need to provide guidance on regulatory matters as regulations are a major instrument for public policy with consequences on agri-food competitiveness, “EES” sustainability, and food security.  A significant CFIA inititiative, under the regulatory modernization effort is The Safe Food for Canadians Regulations (SFCR) and its current consultation.

As conveyed by the CFIA, the SFCR “would replace the current regulations made under the Canada Agricultural Products Act, the Fish Inspection Act, the Meat Inspection Act, and the food-related provisions of the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Regulations. The regulatory framework would create food inspection regulations with consistent, internationally recognized requirements for all food commodities imported or traded inter-provincially. …. The SFCR would support market access for Canadian exporters by keeping pace with food safety modernization efforts in other countries and by strengthening Canada’s reputation for having a world class food safety controls system.”


Food Security – Mental Health

Not too surprisingly, academic research suggests adults living in food insecure households are more likely to
experience a wide range of adverse mental health outcomes, compared to those living in food secure households. University of Toronto’s PROOF has just published a “fact sheet is on the relationship between food insecurity and mental health,” and features new research on mental health care utilization.

(This is the work of V. Tarasuk, J. Cheng, C. Gundersen, C. de Oliveira and P. Kurdyak. The full study is titled “The relation between food insecurity and mental health care service utilization in Ontario” published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 2018.)