Posts Tagged ‘food policy’

Smart ideas for Ontario food policy

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

They may not be sexy, but smart, well-crafted food policies, rules and programs play a big part in building a more sustainable food system.

On February 11 and 12, Sustain Ontario unveiled Policies from the Field, a series of working papers on policies to boost healthy eating and local food production. Sustain Ontario is an alliance of provincial stakeholders – including Ottawa’s Just Food — that advocates for healthy, sustainable food and farming.

The first four papers in the series consider national and international food policies that Ontario’s municipal and provincial governments could adopt in areas such as:

  1. food policy councils
  2. local food procurement
  3. inter-sectoral food agendas, and
  4. land planning to improve local food access

A paper about food hubs will come out February 19, 2013.

In this post, I’ll cover the highlights from the first three papers. Next week, I’ll look at the reports on land use planning and food hubs. Sustain Ontario has posted Policies from the Field online.

Ontario: The Case for a Provincial Food Policy Council

Authored by U.S. community food activist and writer Mark Winne, this paper argues that there’s a lack of common focus to food policy at the provincial and state government levels in North America. While for-profit and non-profit groups have stepped into the void, they may lack the capacity or clout to deal with challenges such as food insecurity, rising obesity rates, and the decline in family farms.  Food policy councils can help bridge the gap by bringing citizens, stakeholders and governments together to actively plan and manage food systems. Examples of successful food policy planning include Toronto and Edmonton at the city level and Nova Scotia, Connecticut, Michigan and New Mexico at the provincial/state level. Given the uncertain future of global food, Winne concludes that cities, provinces and countries that don’t actively shape their own food systems will be at the mercy of forces they can’t control.

As far as Ottawa is concerned, we will soon have our own food policy council.  Slated for launch in the near future, the council will include representatives from the City of Ottawa, citizens and other food system stakeholders.

Possibilities for Local Food Procurement in Ontario

Procurement policy is key to a thriving local food system. As the U.K., Italy and the U.S. have learned, when governments and publicly-funded organizations (e.g., school boards, hospitals, universities) start sourcing local food, it ramps up supply, along with the infrastructure to process and distribute it.  But there’s a stumbling block. Ontario’s ability to procure local food is restricted by a slew of trade agreements – NAFTA, the agreements Canada is negotiating with the European Union (CETA) and Pacific nations (TPP), and others. These agreements prohibit the countries involved from choosing suppliers based on geographic location.  As a result, limiting bids on a food contract to local suppliers would be seen as discriminatory. That said, there may be some wiggle room, according to the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA).  For example, following the lead of several EU nations, Ontario could craft requests for proposal with “technical specifications” to favour foods based on seasonality, freshness or local organic certification.  It might also be possible to set policies that are exempt from trade agreements altogether, such as measures that would apply to contracts below a certain dollar value or that would support non-profit organizations.

Health in All Policies

This paper from food policy analyst Wayne Roberts describes a strategy called Health in All Policies (HiAP) that’s endorsed by the World Health Organization and has been adopted in Finland, the EU and South Australia. In a nutshell, HiAP is an inter-sectoral approach to health issues that connects them to all government agencies instead of just health departments. Roberts suggests that Ontario could implement a HiAP approach to food issues instead of scattering responsibility for them among different bureaucracies such as employment, the environment, health, agriculture and fisheries. This approach would allow people from the various food sectors to understand how interconnected their issues are and what they could achieve by collaborating on an integrated agenda.

What municipal or provincial policy would you change to make local food more widely accessible?

Food read roundup: Marion Nestle, Mark Bittman and more

Saturday, January 19th, 2013

As you’d expect at this time of year, most media coverage of food issues has centred on reviews of last year’s trends or forecasts for 2013. In that category, I’ve picked two opinion pieces that I think offer particular insight. The past few weeks have also seen the issue of food waste finally get attention, while an unexpected controversy has emerged about soaring consumer demand for quinoa, the Andean super-grain.

Marion Nestle on food policy in 2013. She’s talking about U.S. food policy here, but since what happens south of the border often affects Canadian industry, consumers and policymakers, it’s worth including. Besides, this is Marion Nestle, author of What to Eat, and Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health. A professor of nutrition and food studies at New York University, she has become one of the most respected and independent commentators on food safety. Nestle calls it as she sees it, and in The Potentially Transformative Year Ahead in Food Policy, she predicts a more eventful 2013 now that the U.S. is out of election mode. Among other things, she predicts: FDA approval of genetically modified salmon (these salmon are raised in Canada and Panama); more pressure to label genetically modified foods; continued efforts to control childhood obesity through size caps and taxes on soda, and; a bigger push from grassroots groups to “create systems of food production and consumption that are healthier for people and the planet.”

Mark Bittman on priorities and patience. Among the opinions on how to fix the food system this year, Mark Bittman’s January 1 column in the New York Times stands out for me. In it, the well-known journalist, author, and sustainable food champion counsels anyone who wants to reinvent the way we produce and consume food to set clear goals, accept failures as part of progress, and above all, to recognize that meaningful change takes time. A long time. Civil rights, the vote for women and other major social advances have taken decades, even centuries, to fully accomplish. By the same token, it will take time to dismantle the current, complex industrial food system and replace it with one that’s better for our physical, social and environmental health. “Nothing affects public health…more than food,” says Bittman. (Let’s just hope that we have the time that’s required and don’t get pre-empted by climate change.)

Billions of tons of food waste. Thanks to an early January report from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IME) in the U.K., the massive scale of the world’s food waste has become a hot topic. According to the report, anywhere from 30% to 50%, or about 2 billion tons, of food gets tossed out before it reaches our plates. The IME report attributes global food waste to factors such as Western consumers’ insistence that food look perfect, as well as BOGO promotions and overly strict best-before dates. These practices keep food from the hungry, use up significant natural resources, and jeopardize our ability to feed the world’s steadily growing population, the IME says. The waste theme was echoed in a Globe and Mail story on possible food price hikes in 2013, which concludes that readers need to become more aware of their food-waste habits and find more creative ways to use leftovers.

The quinoa controversy. There really is one. And it’s noteworthy because it underscores the potential for conflict between the demands of consumers in affluent countries and the needs of people in developing countries. In a nutshell, super-nutritious quinoa has become so popular in North America and the UK that its price has tripled, making the grain unaffordable for low-income people in Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador — the countries that grow it and rely on it as a dietary staple. The issue has quickly become polarizing. For example, the past week saw the Guardian’s Joanna Blythman claim that quinoa has become a “troubling example of a damaging north-south exchange” while others, such as the Ottawa Citizen’s Elizabeth Payne, argued that all the angst is misplaced and that Andean farmers will benefit in the long run.

What have you been reading  about food lately?

About Earthward

Tuesday, August 7th, 2012

Earthward is a blog about sustainable food in Ottawa, Ontario.

It looks at the farmers, entrepreneurs, chefs, eaters and policy-makers in the city and across the region who are growing a local food economy that respects the earth, nurtures community and strengthens our appreciation of good, healthy food.

The goal of Earthward is to spark conversation, and to engage people who want to know more about sustainable food and help bring it to their neighbourhoods.