Earlier this week, the Christian Farmers Federation made a presentation to the Standing Committee on Social Policy regarding the proposed Local Food Act. The CFFO supports the approach being fostered by the current draft that seeks to encourage education, awareness, and promotion of Ontario-grown food over a regulatory approach, yet we see the opportunity for the Local Food Act to do more to help create sustainable local food systems in this province.
The CFFO is appreciative of the efforts of this Act to take steps to strengthen knowledge and consumption of local food in Ontario. The CFFO supports the soft-target approach to handling public sector institutions because it avoids the pitfalls of triggering trade disputes over legislated local content. Second, a target-based requirement rather than hard regulations on local content and a discussion mechanism for establishing these targets allows for flexibility across public sector institutions with vastly different operating budgets. Finally the CFFO believes that using discussion-based soft targets is the best method if qualitative decisions enter into play in the setting of targets around content.
The CFFO supports a “local food week” as an educational tool. However, having it overlap with agricultural awareness week is a double-edged sword. The danger is that local food week will overshadow agriculture awareness week, reducing knowledge about primary production. However, should the proposed overlap proceed, primary agriculture must take it upon itself to leverage the focus on local food as an opportunity to let residents know where their food comes from.
The CFFO supports the current definition of “Local Food” as being food produced or harvested in Ontario. A more narrow definition would trigger negative regulatory burden for Ontario’s food production and processing system.
With some tweaks, the Local Food Act has the potential to provide more for Ontario residents and farmers. The CFFO believes that providing tax credits to farmers and food processors for donations to food banks will help facilitate stronger supply procurement for Ontario’s food banks and help support low-income families in Ontario. The CFFO supports any enhancement of the Foodland Ontario program, as well as the creation of a market-development program that can strengthen and grow support for local food.
Finally, the CFFO believes that the Local Food Act can address the lack of coordinated aggregation of fresh fruits and vegetables from family farms. The CFFO recognizes that public institutions do not have the resources to deal with a large number of farmers to source their food supplies, nor are they incented to do so when successful food supply companies exist that can consistently deliver what is needed when it is needed heedless of the source of the food. Therefore, the Local Food Act should mandate support for aggregators of local food supplies from family farm operations because they are needed to bridge the gap between the need for market access by family farms and the need for consistent supply for public institutions.
The CFFO believes that the Local Food Act has the potential to enhance local food opportunities for many producers in Ontario. Furthermore, it will enhance the knowledge of the average Ontarian about local food production and the important role that farmers play in producing the food they enjoy every day.