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Time for a global Canadian food policy

Mar 23, 2018

The government is soon to release a new food policy for Canada. With six departments actively engaged, and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada at the helm, the national food policy has occasioned an ambitious and often contentious—but widely welcomed—debate.

The engagement of so many departments, not least Health Canada, speaks to the growing understanding in policy circles that food security rests on a series of interlocking systems that are not easy to coordinate, but whose interdependence can no longer be ignored.

Understanding interdependence means addressing climate change, soil health, and the acidification of our oceans; improving access to affordable housing and adequate social protection; rethinking what kinds of food production and distribution the government supports; and looking at what production and distribution systems should be more heavily taxed, or more closely regulated, to better internalize the costs they generate.

Access for everyone in Canada to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food means all these things. Already, many pieces are in place to build something innovative, interesting, and useful to guide Canada’s future food policies.

But for all its promise, the proposed national food policy has a profound limitation: it stops at the border.

The new policy will affect Canadians. But what about people in other countries? Canada grows 1.5 per cent of the world’s food—pretty significant for a country that has just 0.5 per cent of the world’s population. It is the fifth-largest agricultural exporter in the world.

How do these exports affect people around the world? That’s a big question, but one that so far hasn’t been mentioned in discussions about the new national food policy.

How does Canadian food production affect the world?

One area where Canada can get some guidance is through the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which Canada has endorsed along with other countries.

Known as Agenda 2030, the second goal is to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture globally. Canada cannot meet this ambitious goal if it divides food policy into two baskets: home and abroad.

After all, the same food production and distribution system that puts food on Canadian plates also fills containers for export. And so, we need to ask: how does our food production and consumption affect other countries? Do Canadian exports enhance or weaken global food security? Those are important questions to consider.

Agenda 2030 challenges every country to think about how they might improve their performance, not just in relation to their citizens, but also in relation to everyone on the planet—and the health of the planet itself. Since Canada profits from being a global food exporter, as Canadians we should ensure our wealth is not at the expense of the well-being of others, especially the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.

In this regard, one obvious area to consider is climate change. Agriculture is a contributor to the problem and, at the same time, agriculture is one of the most affected sectors.

Canadian agriculture relies heavily on fossil fuels, which have an impact on the climate we all share. The whole world pays a price for Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions, including some of the poorest regions of the world.

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