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Ontario PCs seek to add food literacy to Local Food Act

Opposition announces plan to enhance local food bill

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The Ontario Liberals re-introduced the Local Food Act earlier this spring, which aims to promote food grown in Ontario. The original bill died in Oct. 2012 when the legislature was prorogued. The bill is expected to reach second-reading shortly, which will open up an opportunity for the opposition parties to put forward amendments. The Ontario PCs have made one of their amendments public – adding food literacy to the bill. spoke with the PC Ag and Education Critic to find out more about the amendment. In addition to speaking with the PCs, the NDP Ag Critic offers his initial thoughts on the announcement along with charity group, Ontario Agri-Food Education – the leader in providing agriculture and food based resources in the classroom.

The Ontario Progressive Conservatives announced on Monday their plan to put forward an amendment to add food literacy to the Local Food Act. Ernie Hardeman, Oxford MPP and PC Ag Critic notes that the announcement was made after the governing Liberals said they would welcome amendments to the bill.

While the bill has yet to reach second-reading, the PCs wanted to make their amendment idea pubic. The concept of food literacy was first outlined in the PCs agricultural white paper, which was released earlier this year. “When the bill goes to committee, we will put forward an amendment to open the Education Act and include food literacy as part of the education curriculum,” explains Hardeman.

Through consultations with industry stakeholders, the PCs found that food literacy was a theme that kept being brought up. “One of the main things that we found out in our consultations is that food literacy seems to be something missing…including understanding of what local food means,” said Hardeman.

Lisa MacLeod, Nepean-Carleton MPP and PC Education Critic says – “our amendment would strengthen the legislation that is well meaning, but lacks substance…” MacLeod explains the significance of the amendment, noting that requiring schools to teach food literacy will help prepare students for the future. “We need our students today for the next generation to understand where food comes from…how it is cultivated, how it reaches market and how to prepare it…this will prepare them for life,” says MacLeod.

The bill is expected to pass and once it reaches committee, the opposition parties are given an opportunity to formally put forward amendments. The amendment will require support of all three parties in order to pass. “We are looking forward to having support from the other two parties,” concludes MacLeod. Hardeman shared with that the PCs plan on putting forward other amendments in addition to food literacy.

The John Vanthof, MPP for Timiskaming-Cochrane and NDP Ag Critic provides reaction to the PCs amendment saying “I think that the Tories are jumping the gun…the act isn’t in committee yet…so it can’t be amended yet.” Vanthof says that he can’t comment if he or his party will be able to support the amendment because it hasn’t been put down on paper, noting that it could change before it reaches committee. “We support it in principle 100%, but we have to see the actual amendment as it comes before committee,” explains Vanthof.

Vanthof notes that the NDP also plans on adding amendments to the Local Food Act, including changing Local Food Week so that it doesn’t overlap with Ontario Agriculture Week. He also says that the NDP wants the goals and objectives that are outlined in the act to be clearer. Vanthof also shares concern that there is no mention in the act about the barriers to local food and would like to see that included. Vanthof concludes by saying that he believes it should be the Education Act that legislators should be looking at, rather than attempting to allow one act to overrule another.

The Ontario Agri-Food Education (OAFE), the leader in providing curriculum-linked agriculture and food related learning materials in the classroom says they are pleased with the announcement. “I am just delighted that it’s made the headlines,” says Colleen Smith, Executive Director, of OAFE. Smith explains how OAFE’s message is about connecting the dots that agriculture is food is health. “Food literacy is the cornerstone to ensure that we tackle the obesity issue…that we tackle bullying in the schools,” said Smith. OAFE has a number of newer initiatives that they plan to rollout in the coming months including a program called “ag in the aisle,” which attempts to meet people where they get their food – the grocery store. “…If you are going to change a culture…the shift involves food literacy,” said Smith.

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