From the Editor: June 2010
By Kristy Nudds
In late April, Liberal party leader Michael Ignatieff announced a
National Food Policy strategy as part of his party’s “Rural Canada
In late April, Liberal party leader Michael Ignatieff announced a National Food Policy strategy as part of his party’s “Rural Canada Matters” campaign. Ignatieff is quoted on the cover of the policy outline (available on the Liberals’ website) as follows: “This isn’t just good rural policy, it’s good public policy that will narrow the rural-urban divide. Buying local is good for our farmers – who grow the world’s highest-quality foods – for our families, and for our environment.”
Political dribble, for sure, but I think it sets the tone of the document. In short, the primary focus of the policy is to improve the health of Canadians, particularly for those with reduced access to affordable, “healthy” food. The policy offers five “principles,” three of which appear to relate directly to food producers.
Although the premise behind the policy is noble, I think it misses the mark on numerous fronts. The biggest problem is that it is trying to tackle far too many issues within one comprehensive plan. Food consumption and food production are two very different things, and trying to mesh the two is simply naive.
The first principle, “Healthy Living,” focuses on health promotion and education to reduce health-care costs. The goal is to educate Canadians about how to make healthy food choices, how the food system works, and how to minimize food safety threats. What a big undertaking! A plethora of information already exists on how to eat healthy; the problem is that healthy food a) is often more costly than highly processed or frozen, and less expensive, options, and b) has the reputation of not tasting very good. If a person’s food budget is minimal, then buying the $2.99 burger/fries/drink deal at a local fast-food restaurant seems a lot more plausible than spending the same amount on a head of lettuce and a tomato or two.
The second principle involves strengthening food inspection and enforcement. Nothing new here – it’s included because, since the Maple Leaf listeria outbreak, it would be political suicide not to address food safety on some level.
What is contradictory about “Rural Canada Matters” is that trying to achieve sustainable farm incomes (the third principle) while making healthy food affordable for the masses involves a lot more than buying local, expanding farmers markets and offering farmers funding to innovate (the third principle), protect the environment (the fourth principle) and develop export markets for developing nations (the fifth principle).
But I have to give the Liberals credit for at least trying to address the health-care and rural income issues that Canada currently faces. I cannot say the same for the Conservative party. As part of its “Economic Action Plan,” I am constantly inundated with press releases on how company X and company Y (and these are primarily food processors) are receiving funding to make them more competitive. Little thought is given to where these products end up, or whether or not the funding will edge out smaller competitors who serve Canadian markets. Throwing large sums of money at specific areas of food production will not solve the issues of how to make agriculture sustainable in Canada and encourage consumers to eat what their country sows.
The political parties in this country are realizing that food is an important issue, but they need to figure out how to really address the problem instead of throwing money at it and create policies that actually work towards solving food issues instead of lumping the trendier issues together.